This is how Maya and I met.

My little warrior sister Maya the Magnificent

My little warrior sister Maya the Magnificent

Maya’s mama posted this pic on my Facebook wall, after they saw a video I shot at a Stand Up To Cancer event we had for my 2-year cancerversary in August 2010. The video was my daughter’s entry in SU2C’s “Up To You” music video contest. The challenge was to put your own spin on the song. The top 3 would be featured on the SU2C show that September.

This was my sweet Amanda’s spin on the song. I shot the film (that’s why I’m not in it) and my sweet Mikeyy edited the video. The band behind her is the rest of The Kicked-in Fence: her brothers Matt (guitar) and Mikeyy (djembe) and their friend Dustin Boudinet (guitar). All the lovely peeps are the kinds of friends I got by with a little help from. A few of them I miss because they have since finished their own cancer battles. Which only makes this video more precious because it captures a moment when we all stood up to cancer together. It. was. magical.

Amanda got 4th place in the contest. But the point is, this is the ripple Maya caught a wave, or rather a high-5, into our lives on. After Maya saw the video, she asked her mom to take that epic pic of her giving me a SU2C high-5 and standing up to cancer with me. Is their anything more precious?

Me & My Mini Me

Me & My Mini Me

The reason I bring this all up, besides the fact everybody’s always asking me about how Maya and I met, is because the Stand Up To Cancer show is on TV tonight.

6 years ago tonight, I happened to flip on the TV and catch the first Stand Up To Cancer show, while recovering from my double mastectomy and my first chemo cocktail hangover. I know this sounds super self-centered, but I felt like it was made for me TV. Like maybe somehow the stars aligned and the big dipper was pouring out the proverbial spoonful of sugar over the Evanshire. (Of course, I took it shaken not stirred, in case you’re wondering;)

Anyway, so Maya’s got a birthday coming up next week and I thought it would be super fun for her if a bunch of peeps wanted to send her SU2C high-fives and/or postcards from wherever you are from. Post the pics in the comments or email them to me and I will make a video of them all for Maya. Send postcards to: Joules Evans, PO box 882, West Chester, OH 45071 [Attn: Maya].

 

Drunkard’s Prayer

September 4, 2014 — Leave a comment

I know it’s throw back Thursday, not throw UP Thursday, but I just got a phone call from my oncologist’s office, letting me know that it’s time for my quarterly check-up…and I almost tossed my cookies (or in this case, nachos). Happens every time. That first chemo cocktail I downed six years ago yesterday, waking up with my first chemo hangover six years ago TODAY… has. left. it’s. mark. on. me. Besides the port scar. Which I had a big c (namaste _/\_ Laura Linney) tattooed on—copyright that cancer.

Photo Cred goes to my friend Isis Charise, photographer of The Grace Project

Anyway, so this past weekend I went to a Jen Pastiloff Manifestation retreat in Ojai, California. It was a gift from the hubcap aka Mr. Joules, for my 6 year cancerversary, which I just celebrated August 20th. Now, this is a thing that drives my Redheads bOnKeRs (because they keep their “letters to Santa” constantly updated on Google docs) but I don’t have a list. Mostly because I already feel so lucky that I can’t even imagine what else in the world I could possibly ask for. But I asked for this because I felt I could use a little inspiration boost(er) before my 6-year check up this coming Monday.

One of the exercises she had us do at the retreat is the inspiration for today’s #tbt pic/post. This is where I feel like it’s only fair to give you a #CheeseAlert—so you might want to go pour a glass of wine to go with the cheese I’m about to throw down not up for throw back Thursday.

The exercise I’m referring to, was a writing prompt. The writing prompt flowed from a series of yoga poses. Somewhere in the ebb and flow of the yoga poses and the writing prompts, a beautiful breakdown occurs in places that were a little stuck. All the “I would/could/should/did/didn’t/have to/can’t excuses we all make. Something in the way she makes us do all those hi-YAH! kicks, makes us feel like we’re knocking down walls. (And we did.) Also, all those planks rendered our arms incapable of being raised, even an inch, to point out even one of those lame ass excuses that we all make for not manifesting aka “making shit happen” (the good kind) in our lives. I don’t know about you, but I have a boatload of excuses in my head. So many voices in my head. And way too freaking often, I hear them calling, “All aboard!” Next thing I know, I’m sailing away on a yacht called Hotel California where “you can check out anytime but you can never leave”.

Which is why it’s always a good idea to keep the voices in our head in check. Or, check-mate, as it so happened, for me during this particular exercise.  The writing prompt was to write a letter to ourself in the voice of someone who loves us.

“If you knew who walked beside you at all times, on the path that you have chosen, you could never experience fear or doubt again.”~Wayne Dyer

This is one of Jen’s themes. It’s also one of the magical things that happens at her workshops and retreats, when you look around the room at the beautiful souls who walked beside you through the weekend, and beyond.

I wrote my letter, to myself, in the voice of my husband. And here’s where the cheese enters. But not, as you might suppose, just because I’m the one stringing together said cheese. The truth of the matter is: Dave is just as cheesy as me. I was only channeling him, or I guess you could say, being the grater. Here’s a little slice (and no, I didn’t cut it) of the cheese:

Dear Joules, my jewel, wife of my youth and, I hope—NO. I know. Yes, darling, I know you have trouble seeing that far ahead, into the future, but I know. I know like I know Jesus loves me, and you, that we will be old together one day, like the couple in UP—but we won’t wait to chase our dreams. We are not waiting. The chase is on! And what. a. ride… Go ahead and put your hands up in the air. It doesn’t matter if you didn’t shave. I’m over here right next to you. I got you. Like I vowed when we were 22. And I believe you’ll still love me when I’m 64. And beyond. Even if you can’t see that far. I can see. This I know. I know enough for the both of us.

I forgot to sign it but I think I nailed it, and I have proof. I’ve been celebrating my 6 year cancerversary with this six part series of a half a dozen chapters from my book, SHAKEN NOT STIRRED…A CHEMO COCKTAIL, and there just so happens to be a chapter that Dave wrote for me. Kinda like a letter in the voice of someone who loves me…

IMG_1184

#tbt to the day after Christmas 2008 aka our 21st anniversary

 

Chapter 13
Drunkard’s Prayer

[Cue my fave band Over the Rhine. Click HERE to hear the song that is the soundtrack to this chapter.]

And by drunkard, I mean to give the microphone here to Dave (while I take a little break to pour another glass of wine) because he’s the one who got stuck with a handful of “in sickness” and “for worse” chips. If I were to write a six-word memoir, it would be Sorry I Cashed “In Sickness” Chips. And the sequel would be, I Hope It’s “For Better” Now. Anyway, without further ado . . . Dave.

Joules (or as I call her, Joule, for short, which I prefer to spell Jewel, if you don’t mind) is a sucker for Shakespeare. I am a sucker for my Jewel. A + B = C. It’s simple math, really. I believe even she could figure that one out and with one hand tied behind her back. Even if it’s the one with that little finger she’s got me wrapped around.

All that to say, I like Shakespeare too. Once I stood up on a bench in the middle of Borders and recited Sonnet 116 to her—it’s one of our favorites of his sonnets. And it goes, something like this… ahem: 

Sonnet 116

By Will

Let me not to the marriage of true minds

Admit impediments. Love is not love

Which alters when it alteration finds,

Or bends with the remover to remove:

O, no! it is an ever-fixed mark

That looks on tempests and is never shaken;

It is the star to every wandering bark,

Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.

Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks

Within his bending sickle’s compass come;

Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,

But bears it out even to the edge of doom.

If this be error and upon me proved,

I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

Shakespeare wrote, “Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds.” Surely he had not considered “the remover” to be a breast surgeon, nor “Time’s sickle” to be a scalpel, nor the compass of Time’s sickle to encompass his love’s breasts.

We’re not talking wrinkles, gray hair, and a little extra weight here. This is serious alteration. But when it came down to them or her, clearly they had to go.

I admit, initially I told myself that this will be a good thing. There will be reconstruction. My wife will be perky in her old age. But looking into the details, it quickly became obvious that this was not an option either of us wanted. But I have found, in true love, that there is a breastliness that transcends the physical and is more tangible than the flesh.

The only real difference this alteration has brought is that when we embrace, our hearts are that much closer together.

“Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds.” As I gaze on her even now, I hear my heart say, “Well then, Will, this must be love.”

Today is my 6-year cancerversary. Hellya, I celebrate it. I celebrate every tiny little beautiful thing I can. (Sometimes if I can’t think of something, I make shit up;) An no, I don’t think cancer is beautiful. It’s a bitch. But, whoa. 6 YEARS, baby! That’s 2192 freaking amaze ball days since I heard that damn C-word aka #shakennotstirred day. That’s basically, two THOUSAND one hundred and ninety-two GIFTS. Every damn one of those days, a present that I’ve tried to unwrap the hell out of. Even the hard ones.

So, in my continuing series of blog posts sharing chapters from my book: SHAKEN NOT STIRRED…A CHEMO COCKTAIL, here’s a couple chapters about what went down at the Evanshire when my breast surgeon called and told me I had cancer. Chapter 6 is from my perspective and chapter 7 is in my Redheads’s own words.

By the way the Kindle version of my book is FREE today AND TOMO. So download away and please feel free to flip off cancer today with me as you do. Click HERE for the link.

Also, if you’d like to further “stick it to cancer” and also put a few pennies in my Redheads’s pockets, their “Cancer is a Bitch” song (which they wrote for me for my last chemo) is available on iTunes. I have no idea why this song hasn’t gone viral. I’m not even kidding or being a biased mama (even though I am absolutely biased about my Redheads, and even though I do kid around a lot.) For realz. They really are crazy good and this song freaking rocks. Click HERE for the link.

Chapter 6
I Don’t Know Why

(Cue Amy Grant, because that is the song I had on loop when I wrote this chapter.)

Dr. Stahl called me just before dinner. It was, actually, five o’clock. And that’s truly not a cheap shot, or an attempt at being poetic even if my life is freaking poetic; it’s just how the day played out. And boy, did I need a drink.

Pinot grigio, anyone? Yes, I had a pinot grigio. Or two. OK, maybe three. This happened to be one of those moments.

And the next time the clock struck five, I penned the following on my blogintheshire, which unfortunately got cancer when I did and turned into my cancer blog, where we posted updates for our friends and family:

THURSDAY, AUGUST 21, 2008

The Scoop

I’m sorry it has taken until five a.m. to get to this blog update. I’m not going to lie—this is not the easiest blog to write. This has not been the easiest day. Parts of it have been lovely, though, so that’s where I let myself drop at the end of the day, and that is where I find myself right now, sitting here, so I will start right there, if you don’t mind, and then open the fortune cookie we got from the doctor today in proper form, after I’ve digested some of the day.

The Redheads and I hung tight and close to home all day, which is one of my favorite things. We all slept in for the first time since this whirlwind hit. The boys did not sleep the night before my surgery, and Amanda has been burning a candle at both ends with everything and her new job and beauty school. I think I may have just passed out from exhaustion. Or maybe it was the Vicodin. But the point is, sleeping in is also one of our favorite things, and a good way to start a day. Unless you have to be somewhere and you are late. Which occasionally happens in our home—but not today.

On days like today the things that matter most are crystal clear.

My mum and sister and nephew are here, so that’s also nice to wake up to. I actually woke up to the lovely little pitter-patter of my nephew Brody’s sweet feet, who apparently swept up with Olympic fervor, was in training for the hundred-yard dash around the race track that circles my dining room and kitchen. You really can’t start training too early these days and I have to admire his dedication at two years old.

We all had a lovely picnic out on my back deck. My Redheads did a mini concert for us, which was the icing on top of lovely.

After lunch we watched a movie (Russell Crowe’s A Good Year—uh, dramatic irony, anyone?) to pass the time before the phone call. We did not just sit around all day waiting for the phone call. We had a really good day, and then the phone call came.

Dave is out of town. I made him go ahead and go on his business trip because I didn’t want to act like we were going to get bad news. He will be back tomorrow (Thursday) night.

That is how we are woven together.

I (had Mikeyy) conference Dave in, and the kids were right by my side, on speakerphone. The doctor said the damn spots were cancer. Grade 3, which is apparently aggressive. And if I understood the doctor correctly, the size of the three spots together was 2.3 centimeters. The one I felt was very near the surface and she had to scrape to get what she could of it, but she couldn’t get it all without taking some of my breast, which she didn’t obviously, at that time. But that’s at least going to have to go. We have some big decisions to make this weekend before we meet with the doctor on Monday at five-thirty p.m. to discuss and jump into our game plan. We plan to be more aggressive than the cancer. I’m told I’m a wee bit competitive, so hopefully that’s a good thing. We also need to go back and get some lymph nodes. And I think she mentioned chemo. Other than that, it was a fairly fuzzy phone call for me. It hit my Redheads hard and fast. Please pray for them anytime you think of me. I am not sure it has sunk into me yet, unless it is the pit that I have felt like throwing up since before dinner. But haven’t. Yet.

This is me, shaken. To the core. In front of my kids. I don’t know why.

I ordered the Redheads some pizza and some of my tennis girlfriends came over and we sat out on the back deck, drinking pinot grigio. Yeah, my girlfriends got my back. They B.Y.O.B.’d it, after they heard me sing “How Dry I Am” in the hospital. That’s what girlfriends are for.

They also delivered P.F. Chang’s to the Evanshire the night before, following my surgery. My cookie had a fantastic and apropos fortune in it that we are going with: Good food brings health and longevity. Not to mention, the first lucky number mentioned is 42, which is my age. And I believe it is also a significant number for galaxy hitchhikers. Yes, I have the T-shirt; Mikeyy made me one for my forty-second birthday.

That’s. Love. That’s all I really know right now.

So that’s the scoop. Thanks for praying.

That’s where things were. And me, bookended there in the gift of the present.

We’d like to invite anyone who lives near to come over and pray with us Saturday night at seven as we’d like to bring out the big guns of prayer to begin this battle with and cast ourselves into our Father’s very capable hands. And we go from there.

Hold my hand—sorry if it is shaking a little. Sometimes the sand moves fast. But isn’t it so beautiful?

Posted by Joules Evans at 5:17 a.m.

Like I said, I had my three teenagers huddled around me when “the call” came. The doctor said the C word and it hit my kids hard. From my perspective it was as if that damn word had knocked my kids over. I don’t remember breathing while I watched my kids succumb to the gravity of the moment as they fell to the ground. Literally. In three, separate sobbing heaps. Oh. My. Heart. Times three. Precious, shattered pieces on the floor. It was one of the most gut-wrenching mommy moments I’ve ever experienced. I desperately needed three laps and six arms right then. That’s really all I was thinking about at that moment in time when it was standing still . . . like that.

That moment was the inciting incident in my life. It changed everything. Like September 11 changed everything. Like writing a.d. on the very first check after Jesus was born. Time had been counting down to that precise moment of PAX—the ground zero of history—then all of a sudden we’re counting up.

I realize my inciting incident didn’t have the same global implications. But that mommy moment became a hinge that held me fast, in the now. And I found some traction to do what I needed to do right then.

I stopped taking notes as soon as I wrote down the word that knocked my Redheads over and made them cry. I dropped the pencil that I’d drawn from behind my ear. I stopped listening to what Dr. Stahl was saying. I dropped the phone. There were no oxygen masks in the room anyway, and time had sort of stopped, so I dropped to the ground, gathered my precious babies, and rolled them up in my arms. That’s how I stop, drop, and roll.

I did not process the fact that my doctor had just said I had cancer. Dave was still on the other end of the line with Dr. Stahl, processing everything. If it sounds horrible that he was out-of-town on a business trip that day, it really wasn’t. He had cancelled the trip to stay home for “the call” but like I said, I told him it would be like expecting the worst if he stayed. So he went, for me. I made him go. I needed him to go. Now I needed him to stay on the phone with my doctor. When I stopped, dropped, and rolled, he picked up the ball. Thank God. There was no time for him to stop, drop, and roll. There were more words to listen to, more notes to take, questions to ask, appointments to schedule, research to be done, decisions to be made, tears to cry, groans to be uttered, prayers to be prayed, a plane to catch, a sickly wife and three grief-stricken kids to come home to, phone calls to make, a business to run, insurance forms to fill out, dinner to be picked at, insomnia to be had, pieces of our world to pick up, after of course he finished this phone call, knowing there was no time to go look in the mirror and see what he was made of. That’s just how he rolls, when I stop, drop, and roll.

And that’s how we roll.

I don’t know why Dr. Stahl had to say the C word. I do know that sometimes words do hurt, though. No matter what people say about sticks and stones. Or rock, paper, scissors for that matter. Words beat them all.

I don’t know how I got cancer. Damn spot.

I didn’t know where all this was going to lead. Were my days about to begin counting down?

All I knew was my children might lose their mother.

I don’t know why.

All I knew was I loved them.

And all I could think about was right now. Right here. So I held them fast, like I wouldn’t let go.

Meanwhile, my mom and my sister, Jennie, were downstairs in the family room, flipping channels and magazine pages, fielding phone calls, folding my laundry, imagining doors opening, straining ears for footsteps, watching ice melt in their Diet Cokes while clocking Brody’s laps, wishing the clock would keep up with him, waiting for someone to come tell them what the doctor said. The glasses weren’t the only ones sweating.

Jennie summed it up like this:

Mom and I were sitting in the living room at my sister’s house, waiting desperately for someone to emerge from upstairs with news from the call. In a moment that seemed to stand still forever, Amanda quietly walked downstairs to where we were. My heart went to pieces as she looked at me and then just fell broken into my arms. It felt like all the oxygen left the room when I realized that my sister had breast cancer. Amanda and I fell into a sobbing heap, onto the loveseat. Mom began hyperventilating the second we heard the C word. I don’t know how she managed to make it across the room, but she fell onto the loveseat, becoming part of the heap with us. She and I sandwiched Amanda. We all felt like we were drowning, and all we could do was hold on to each other.

 

Chapter 7
Mother and Child Reunion

(Cue Paul Simon, because that is the soundtrack to this chapter)

 

The Redheads—In Their Own Words)

Before you slam the book shut…the following picture is not what you may think. My sweet children were not flipping me off nor did I choose this photo to flip you, dear reader, off. Rather, on the way to Racing for a Cure for their Mum, Amanda got that very finger slammed in Yukon’s door. We almost had to change route and race to the hospital. But once Amanda caught her breath and could wiggle and “flip” her finger, she decided it really said what she felt, both in that moment, and even more appropriately, about her Mum getting cancer. She asked me to take a picture, and the boys quickly stood proudly with their “little” sister: such sweet solidarity amongst siblings. This picture means more to me than you can imagine. And with that, I’d like to introduce my Redheads:

redheadsflipoffcancer

Amanda—17 years old

Legends and stories often have more to do with shaping a culture or person than the actuality behind those stories. I like this—I think it’s true. Please, don’t take the following as the word of God, but rather as the discombobulated memories of a girl. The facts here may have been entirely made up.

There is a tremor that runs through this memory—as an earthquake in my brainwaves. We all gathered in my brother Matt’s bedroom. My dad was on speakerphone—he was away somewhere. The doctor was on a different speaker. Gravity was unsure of what to do. The air felt unsteady and wobbled like a depressive drunk. I think it had grown thicker, too, possibly to catch me when I heard what it somehow already knew.

I don’t know what the doctor said. I don’t even remember the doctor’s gender. The only distinct thing that I remember is the sound of an implosion—and then the feeling of being submerged. It felt as though my spinal cord had been snapped and my brain set afloat in the stormy sea of cerebrospinal fluid. I think of the execution of Nicholas II, the last Russian tsar: a family lined up and murdered—shot. My brothers broke. My Mum instantly became mortal. My Dad, though . . . In my memory, there was an audible creaking—as though his spine was an ancient tree being straightened out. A groaning—as though he were a wooden ship being stressed from too much weight. A thump—as this new load, in sickness, dropped on him: the sound of a man becoming Atlas.

I walked away from the room, only able to stand because of the air’s thickness pillowing around me. Everything felt loosened and unconnected as I treaded downstairs to the couch. Be the adult, now—that’s what I was thinking.

I walked up to my Aunt Jennie. So far, so strong. But as I tried to force the word cancer out of my mouth, I found myself to be broken, too. Collapsed. Aunt Jennie’s arms gathered me up, and I remember resting against her breasts. I felt as though I were merely a page in a book and the epitome’s cover slammed heavily against me.

We wept.

mattandredballoon

Matt—15 years old

The whole day was a really big blur. I remember it seemed like it moved so fast, but at the same time it was also one of the slowest days ever. Mikeyy and I had been in my room playing Portal on our Xbox 360 for the previous couple of days, like going through the portals in the game took us through a portal out of our lives for just a bit. It seemed like the best thing to do to keep our minds off of everything going on. Then I just remember all of us in my room, huddled around the phone. Trying to get the phone conference going seemed like it took hours. The doctor’s voice had no real emotion, which just made it all the scarier. Finally, we got everyone on the phone: Dad conferenced in with us and the doctor. I don’t think any of us breathed the whole time the doctor was talking. Nothing she said made any sense to me. My mum was healthy. Nothing was wrong with her. Everything was fine. But then I was sitting there and the doctor was saying she had cancer. Then it hit me. I remember thinking about how ever since I was little, whenever Dad would leave on business trips, he would tell me that while he was gone, I was the man of the house. It eventually just became second nature so that he didn’t even have to tell me. I didn’t think I should cry because Dad was gone, which made me the man of the house. I didn’t think the man of the house would cry—I cried anyway though. I remember sitting in the corner by my bedroom door holding Amanda and Mikeyy. None of us really knew what to do. What can you do in that kind of a situation? I went and sat in my closet. Something about the dark enclosed space of my closet always makes me feel safe.

Mum picked the phone back up and she, Dad and the doctor stayed on for a while longer. I just kind of sat there in shock. Our whole lives had been shaken and everything was different. Everything seemed dark and rainy and just downright sucky then but I never even thought about the silver lining that would come.

mikeyyandme

Mikeyy—14 years old

I don’t cry a lot. In fact, I only cried once throughout the whole cancer earthquake that shook our world. I didn’t even cry once throughout the entire film, The Notebook. If you were to bottle up all the tears I shed year-round to give water to people in Nigeria, you would not even provide one person with 1/24th of the water needed in a day. If my tears were Noah’s flood, Noah would only be the size of seven molecules bonded together. In fact, eighty percent of the time water drops from my eyes, it’s my body rushing to my aid whenever I engage in my staring contest addiction, or me staring till I fake cry, so that Mum’s sweet little heart wants to give me whatever I want. That, or I’m just tired.

A time without tears can actually be a sad time. I’ve found throughout my life that when sad instances come along, tears are a little inadequate when it comes to expressing how I feel.

This instance was no different.

I did not cry when we got the phone call. I did not cry when we all dropped to the floor. I did not cry when the realization sunk in that I might not have my Mum around much longer. I did not cry.

Like I said, crying did not seem adequate in a situation like this. Instead, I nothing-ed. Nothing-ing seemed a little more appropriate. It at least made sense. Nothing I said or did would change anything. Nothing I felt would fix this. Nothing leaving my eyes would help. So I felt nothing—nothing but despair.

[This is part two in a series to commemorate my 6-year cancerversary, coming up on August 20, in which I am posting a free sneak peek of 6 chapters from my book, SHAKEN NOT STIRRED...A CHEMO COCKTAIL, as the numbers on the calendar remind me: Whoa. That hap'd. Six years ago. Today.

August 11, 2008 was the night I found the damn spot that turned out to be cancer. I posted that part of the story yesterday in part one. Click HERE to read that post with Chapter 2: "When The Stars Go Blue".

Six years ago today, August 13, 2008, I had my first—and last—mammogram. By last, I don't mean to brag about not having to have my boobs squashed between mammography plates anymore—#breastcancerperk #NOT. I just thought I'd point it out, because it might not be obvious that the reason for no further mammograms, is because, well...there 'aint no more mamms to gram. Case in point: I still get a postcard in the mail every damn year reminding me it's time for my yearly mammogram...FROM THE HOSPITAL WHERE I HAD MY MASTECTOMY. Cracks. Me. Up. Every. Damn. Time. I get one of these postcards in the mail. You'd think if anybody knew I don't need a freaking mammogram anymore, it would be THE HOSPITAL THAT REMOVED MY BREASTS. So that's why I was being all "Captain Obvious" about it. Anyway, the postcards don't bother me; I can always use a good laugh. And, they do actually remind me...to remind my tribe to #getemsquashed. This chapter is about that  mammogram. It's kinda my postcard to you, from the other side of breast cancer: "Been there. Done that. Had to buy a new t-shirt. Don't wish you were here. So too those in the tribe who should have, but haven't YET scheduled their mammograms, please go do that now, for you, and for me, k? And if you do schedule one after reading this, drop me an email letting me know, and I'll send you one of my famous typo-fied "SKAKEN NOT STIRRED" bracelets for being so awesome in the self care dept.]

Chapter 3

Help Me Out God

I’d never had a mammogram before. Please . . . do not put it off until you’re forty-two years old and find a lump in your breast, like I did.

Dr. Allen couldn’t find the spot at first. One would think that would be a good sign. At least, we tried to take it as one. I’m a small-framed person and, to put it frankly, there is not a lot of room for a spot to hide. Maybe my simple prayer had been answered? Maybe I worked the spot out while I played tennis? Or maybe I had imagined it, after all.

That would’ve been awesome. That would’ve been the end of this story. And there is part of me that would’ve been OK with that. But that’s not how it happened. She eventually found the proverbial X.

Damn spot. It had been elusive due to rather awkward placement, right beneath the “milky way.” It figures, that even my cells would be undercover—all cloak and dagger, and spies like me.

I could tell that Dr. Allen didn’t seem to like what she’d found. She said she thought we should do a mammogram and an ultrasound to “cover second base.” That was not what I expected her to say, at all. Then she picked up the phone and scheduled the tests for the very next day.

I wasn’t scared yet. I had some adrenaline pumping, but not from jumping to conclusions. The things I’d heard about mammograms, particularly the squashing involved, made me cringe. I’d always experienced a sympathetic twinge of pain whenever I was with a group of women and the conversation uncomfortably shifted to mammogram stories, which usually followed everyone’s birth stories.

If you saw Casino Royale, you might remember a certain scene in which the most recent James Bond, played by Daniel Craig, took a few torturous knocks to the groin area. I had to close my eyes because I don’t like seeing people tortured. Or naked, really. And, especially, not being tortured while naked. The collective gasp from the men in the theater during that scene, told me it was one of those need-to-know scenes that I didn’t need to know. They obviously felt his pain.

Stories about mammograms and the squashing involved had a similar effect on me. And my overactive imagination did not help things when it came to considering my own impending mammogram. If mammograms were a Facebook page I would not have been a fan. If there were such a thing as a dislike button, I would have pressed it. Yet I needed to know what that damn spot was, so I didn’t have the mammogram invite removed from my events.

On Wednesday, my hubby and I went to what is now the Mary Jo Cropper Family Center for Breast Care at Bethesda North Hospital, in Cincinnati, to have the scheduled tests.

I couldn’t believe what a big deal my mammogram wasn’t. In retrospect, it was probably harder on my hubby than it was on me. I mean it. I found myself a tad distracted when the technician took out a Sharpie and drew an X right on the spot. Then she remarked that it was at six o’clock on my breast. I have to admit that I did appreciate the poetry of the whole X marking the spot. I had a lol moment, though, when she told me the placement in terms of a clock face. The spot was actually somewhere between 5:27 and 5:28, but I also round up. For some reason, this thought got a hold of my funny bone and wouldn’t let go, despite the gravity that kept trying to suck me in. And my funny bone is connected to my coping bone. This is where my head was while I placed my breasts between the mammography plates that squished but did not squash me.

Dave had no distractions and was not finding himself lost in the poetry of the Sharpie’s X. He was impatiently watching the clock and anxiously pacing off the waiting room like he was Quick Draw McGraw. Apparently, the nurses got worried about him and asked me to check on him as soon as they finished squishing my breasts between the mammography plates and right before they gelled them up for the ultrasound.

Dave was wound so tight that he had pitted out his shirt. Earlier we’d started a crossword puzzle together, but he couldn’t concentrate on it. We decided that it would’ve been a good thing to stock the waiting room with Scotch—right next to the coffee pot. Dave didn’t really need any caffeine. It was only three in the afternoon but we’d already established that it was already almost half-past five o’clock on my breast. Dave could’ve used a Scotch, maybe a double, and on the double.

The ultrasound was lengthy, due in part to the aforementioned savvy of the spot. But the technician also happened to find two more damn spots, while searching for the X that marked the first.

Also, the technician had a bit of a sneezing fit during the process. It was awkward sitting there with freezing cold gel on my hot boobs while the poor girl sneezed her head off. I said “bless you” a few times. The I threw in a “gesundheit.” After that I didn’t know what to say. So I asked her if she thought she might possibly be allergic to me.

After the tests I remember standing in a very small room while a couple of men in scrubs briefed Dave and me. They said the original spot was about a centimeter, the second was 0.7, and the third was 0.6. They said they all appeared to be solid masses—which didn’t sound good. But they tried to reassure us that it was not necessarily bad news. They recommended that we biopsy them all, but stressed I should not go home thinking I have cancer. There were “not bad” solid masses those damn spots could be. We were not there yet. And I honestly didn’t go there yet. Things were spinning so fast I really didn’t have time to look down. To me this was the hand of God walking me through the vertigo of it all, helping me out. I don’t have any other way of explaining it. Someone much wiser once wrote about “a peace that passes understanding,” which is about as close as I can come to describing it.

The next day Dr. Allen processed through the findings with Dave and me. She also wanted to do one more diagnostic test, prior to the suggested invasive procedures. It’s considered “alternative” and a bit controversial, but my experience with breast thermography was that it was a rather spot-on (pardon the pun) diagnostic weapon in the fight against breast cancer. Basically, it’s the use of infrared digital photography to capture the heat and blood flow in the breast. Apparently, cancer cells don’t cool off like normal cells do. Climate control is key, therefore, in breast thermography*.

Dr. Allen was meticulous in establishing the proper climate in the examination room, and in acclimating me to the climate of my discontent. It actually took most of Thursday to find just the right balance between the AC and the chill in my bones. Take one didn’t quite work out. Although they’d winterized the room all morning, my low body temperature called for arctic measures. It took four more hours to put a proper chill in the air.

First, I had to take off my shirt and stand there, holding my hands above my head (to keep my arms from trying to trap some heat in my pits) while the technician took pictures. This was uncomfortable on many levels. But it got worse.

Next, I had to stick my hands in ice water and keep them submerged for what seemed like forever. I was so painfully cold that I almost started crying. I thought about the Titanic. Which didn’t help. Because then I imagined my tears turning into icicles, dangling like stalactites from my cheek and chin. I decided I’d spell them eye-cicles if they did. That, actually, did help a teeny t-eye-ny bit.

Finally, Dr. Allen told me I could draw the ice cubes that used to be my hands out of the water. Then she told me to “put your hands up”—and busted is exactly how I felt, as I stepped back in front of the camera for mug shots of my breasts.

The digital images didn’t bode well. There was no evidence of cooling. My fingers were still blue; my breasts looked red on the screen. In other words, my boobs were hot. I’m really not trying to brag. Just stating the facts.

*

**http://www.huffingtonpost.com/christiane-northrup/the-best-breast-test-the-_b_752503.html

August Rush

August 12, 2014 — 1 Comment

#LiveEveryDamnDayLikeItsSharkWeek

It’s most likely a superpower; though, I know some might dismiss it as a mere a side-effect. Whatever. Semantics. All I know is that ever since I got cancer it’s like I have some kinda Spidey-like-sense, or something, to where I actually feel August coming. And once I stick my toe in it, things just amp up. And multiply, the further out I swim. You could call it an August rush, I suppose. The best way to describe what it feels like, is the theme song to Jaws: Na-na. Na-na. Na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na. Na-na… Which, on one hand, is oh so apropos, because of ShArKwEeK; and in the other hand is my poetic license because of my own private #pinknado—aka my cancerversary.

Sunday night we celebrated both at the Evanshire. We tuned the “boob tube” to Shark Week…we ate swedish fish, goldfish crackers and other light-“bites”, drank “cancer is a Bitch wine” and “not-a-chemo-cocktails”, and were merry… we caught a sneak preview of the soon to be released “Cancer is a Bitch” music video (by my Redheads’s band, the Kicked-in Fence)… we impaled a shark piñata with a sword aka Excalibur, that my son grabbed from the umbrella stand… we read the #LiveSincerely pledge… and then we launched helium balloons with bucket list items on them into the night sky. It. Was. Magic. One of those nights to remember… to live every damn day like it’s shark week.

The very next damn day, the funniest man alive killed himself. The genie is free. But we’re all left standing on top of our desks, crying, “O captain my captain.” :( O for a na-na na-na… instead of one. final. nanu nanu. RIP, Robin. I hope you fly. And if you see a bunch of balloons up there, I hope it makes you happy to see what dreams may come, from a pretty damn good seat for the show. I was so super freaking tempted to plant myself on the couch tonight and do a Robin Williams marathon…

But six years ago tonight, in these same wee hours that I sit here plucking away at this piece, I found a damn spot in my left breast that turned out to be cancer. And yet, here am I, six years later—alive. It’s a lot to wrap the old bean around. Especially when I’ve lost so. many. too. many. people I love to this bitch of a disease. Yes, I feel like I get a little more lost, every time somebody I love finishes their battle with cancer. And yet, here. I am. Still. Alive, and kicking (cancer’s ass), healthy, fit, happy, lucky. It doesn’t seem fair, if I’m being honest. And why wouldn’t I speak that truth? #mytruth: This is something that tears me up inside every damn day that one of my friends gets diagnosed, or has a recurrence. It’s something I spend myself into the ground over, trying (as if?) I could make it worth it that I keep getting this precious gift that so many, too many of my friends, don’t. It’s something that makes me feel the way time flies uber acutely, like there’s not a second to waste if I want to leave some kind of a beauty mark that I was here. It’s something I talk to my shrink about.

So I’m a writer. This is who I am. It’s what I do. So of course I wrote a book about my cancer journey. It’s called SHAKEN NOT STIRRED…A CHEMO COCKTAIL. It’s a comedy about my tragedy. It’s not that I think cancer is funny or anything. Cancer sucks. But I believe laughter is good medicine. So did Patch Adams. If my book were a “literal” chemo cocktail, it would be one part hope, a dash of bitter, a splash of sweet, with a twist of humor, and served on the rocks. And, of course, shaken, not stirred.

To celebrate my SIX YEAR CaNcErVeRsArY, this August month, I thought I’d serve up half a dozen chapters in this space, in real time, as we keep turning pages on my #pinknado of a calendar. It seemed like the least I could do, to offer up some of the gratitude splashing out of my very full cup. I don’t want to waste a drop.

Here’s what I wrote about this night, six years ago, when I found the damn spot…

Chapter 2


When the Stars Go Blue
(Cue: Tim McGraw)

On August 11, 2008 there were meteor showers over Cincinnati. My world was rocked that night, but it had nothing to do with the meteors that my teenage son Mikeyy and I watched in the wee hours of that sleepless in Cincinnati kind of night.

Previous to Perseus’ fireworks display, somewhere in between the lines of August 11 and 12, I’d awakened particularly parched from the end-of-season cocktail party I’d thrown that evening at the Evanshire, aka my home sweet home.

Being somewhat of a newbie tennis freak, I’d played on three tennis teams that summer. My neighborhood team had just won the division championship. My United States Tennis Association (USTA) team had just played in the district championship tournament. We actually won the districts, but.

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And the big but (yeah, they say everybody’s got one) was that the win pushed one of our player’s ratings into a higher bracket, which.

And the “rhymes-with-a-witch” was that “the win?” officially disqualified all her matches and our team from the victory, not to mention a road trip to regionals. The trophy didn’t have a chance to slip through our fingers; we never even got to touch it before the ruling came raining down on our parade.

For the cocktail party, I’d grabbed several bottles of a certain Grenache that had caught my eye from across the wine store where I was searching for just the right red and/or white to go with our blues. It had a hot pink label with elegant cursive lettering that read Bitch.

Cancer is a bitch wine

My tennis girlfriends cracked up when I presented the wine. Then we all sighed, and said, “Yeah, it sure was.” We uncorked the wine. It was the best of times and we were making the best of the worst of times. We ate and drank and made merry. I went to bed thirsty.

I knew I would wake up in the middle of the night dying-of-thirst thirsty.

What I didn’t know was that dying of thirst would end up saving my life.

It was five o’clock somewhere—for me it was somewhere in the middle of the night when I woke up from a dream in which I was practically dying of thirst and trying desperately, though unsuccessfully, to quench it.

“Need . . . H . . . 2 . . . Ohhhh,” I sputtered out in a dry whisper like I was some kind of a tumbleweed, searching for an oasis.

“So. [click] Very. [click] Thirsty.”

I couldn’t even peel my tongue off the roof of my mouth.

I’d dealt with similar middle-of-the-night dehydration before, so I had the drill down, practically in my sleep. I tumbled out of bed, crawled across the bedroom floor, slithered down the stairs more like a Slinky than a snake, and somehow found myself standing in front of the kitchen sink. I guzzled a glass of water, diluting the dehydration and dousing the dream.

Then I poured another, and headed to the study to sip on the second one while checking Facebook. And I played a little Scramble, to try and unscramble the fog in my brain.

That’s when I bumped up against my desk—Ouch. I felt—and heard—an unexpected thud.

Something had gone bump in the night— and the bump was on me: my left breast, to be more specific.

My jaw fell to the floor and my eyebrows formed a question mark as I held my breath, brought my hand to my breast, and felt the lump.

I cannot explain the shock and awe I felt. It was like a meteor to my chest, literally. I remember the lump felt like a shooter marble right beneath the “milky way.” I was pretty sure it wasn’t there the day before. My hubby, Dave didn’t mention anything about marbles later that night. I’m sorry if that’s TMI, but I don’t see how we could’ve missed a meteor like that.

I don’t know how long I sat there trying to imagine what in the world the marble could be. I found myself checking and rechecking to see if it was really there. Then I kept checking and rechecking to see if it was still there. Part of me thought I was imagining things. But, no, it was still there. Part of me started imagining things. I felt the meteor again, and then stared out the window.

My fourteen-year-old son Mikeyy was lying out on the driveway, gazing up at the meteor showers in the sky. I let go of my own gravity and let myself get pulled into his world for a little while— snuggling up next to him and watching the sky fall, like it was a movie.

That time with Mikeyy is etched in my soul as a perfect snapshot of—not my life passing before my eyes, in the dying sense—but more like a haiku, capturing what it was all about.

When the meteor show was over, I had a hard time keeping my thoughts from spiraling out of control. A sensible part of me, that I had to dig way down deep for, took all the other parts of me, and put them to bed.

Not wanting to wake Dave, I lay there, deciding to wait out the night. I waited for him to wake. I waited to see if it would just go away. I waited. And prayed.

Since my thoughts like to play connect the dots, this would be where my inner Lady Macbeth spoke up, as “Out, damn’d spot” were the words that came out. This seemed like a reasonable prayer, so I went with it.

I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what to say to Dave when he awoke. The truth is, I generally obsess over just about anything I even think of, processing it at from every angle before it gets “on deck,” on the tip of my tongue. Just to make sure I say what I mean to say, and that I articulate it the way I mean it. Extroverting is not my strong suit. I can do it, but I don’t think I do it very well. And it wears me out. I had nothing by the time he woke up. I was worn out, wound up, and ended up just winging it.

Some words tumbled out into the air and then seemed to settle in a cloud over Dave. He groaned one of those “groanings which cannot be uttered,”9 (like he already knew, too) and fearfully, mechanically, reached over toward the spot.

Dave said that waking up to that morning was like waking up on the worst possible side of the bed ever.

I was still pretty groggy when Joules asked me about a lump she had found on her breast. She’s pretty random and often catches me off guard, but in twenty years of marriage, she had never asked anything quite like this. As soon as I felt the obvious lump, the fog instantly cleared and I was wide awake. My heart and mind started racing, but I tried not to let her see my fear. Outside I was saying, “Hmm, that’s strange,” but inside I was frantically praying, “Please, God, no! Please, God, no! Please, God, no!” Ever since we had a friend diagnosed with breast cancer, I held a secret fear that it might strike Joules one day. This fear only intensified when our friend lost her seven-year battle. Before that, cancer was something other people got. Old people. People with unhealthy lifestyles. People I didn’t know. But our friend was young, healthy (fit, even), a wife and mom, a good and godly woman. And she was one of Joules’s closest friends. Suddenly breast cancer was very real to me, and very scary.

I won’t ever forget that groan. Dave’s middle name, Wayne, means wagon, and I could just feel him bearing the weight that was to come.

He felt the spot; I had not imagined it.

He got out of bed and made a pot of coffee. Dave makes coffee for me every morning. Even brings a cup up to our bedroom and sets it on my nightstand to help me wake up, smell the coffee, rise and shine, seize the day. Yes, I am spoiled. I admit it.

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Then he headed to the study with his computer, and began researching what “not bad” things it could be. At first we were hoping it might be a cyst, or hormones. Or even a boil—at which point, I channeled my inner Job. Then he began adding big words that started with fibro- and pap- and ended in -oma, and my brain went all foggy again.

I poured another cup of coffee and called my sister, Jennie, who lives in Charleston, to tell her about the damn spot. She’s my baby sister, but also my best friend. She’s also a little ADHD. I happen to love her rabbit trails, so I figured I could thumb a ride on her distraction.

Jennie later described the rabbit hole she fell in when I told her about the lump.

The day Joules called me and told me about the damn spot she found, I asked her if she thought it might just be a pimple or something weird like that. I tried to be reassuring for her and myself. The thing is, Joules has always been the strong one, and almost like a mother to me, all my life. And to me, nothing bad could or would ever happen to her. But when we hung up the phone, the knot that seemed to have tied in my throat came undone, and my tears broke free. My glass is not always as full as my sister’s, and it sort of felt like it had just tipped over.

Dave made an appointment with my gynecologist for three o’clock that afternoon. I had chosen her because I was not really into doctors at the time. She was a naturopath, but also an MD. Basically, she was into alternative/non-traditional—with leanings toward Eastern—medicine. I liked that she was not a traditional medical evangelist, but had that training as well, in the palette of her doctor’s bag. I did not worry that she would jump to any radical medical conclusions because that was not her holistic style. I felt we were sort of on the same page and that everything could be OK, because she was the most likely doctor to find alternative explanations for the spot, and alternative ways of spot removal.

Meanwhile, Dave told me I should go ahead and go to a tennis clinic I’d already signed up and paid for, to try to keep my mind off that damn spot until three.

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—So that’s the end of the chapter, but obvs… there’s more chapters, and way more to the story besides just me standing there waiting for the tennis ball to cross the net so I can CRUSH it! So feel free to stay tuned to see what haps next. Or if you are impatient as hell like me, SHAKEN NOT STIRRED…A CHEMO COCKTAIL is avail on Amazon and Kindle. Click HERE. The Kindle version is avail for $2.99 with the purchase of the paperback, which is $9.99. On August 20, in commemoration of the day I heard the C-word, the Kindle version will be FREE.

P.S. Here’s the iTunes Link to the “Cancer is a Bitch” Song by the Kicked-in Fence aka my Redheads<3 To download the Cancer is a Bitch song, click HERE. It’s only 99 cents, but you should see what starving artist college kids can eat for 99 cents these days!

I’ll post the music video as soon as we’ve put the final editing touches on it.

Dear Cancer

Cancer is stupid;

Port scars: a badge of honor.

But cancer cards…ROCK.

#tbt to that time my goofy mug made it up on the Stupid Cancer FB page! Also to that time my beautiful friend Isis Charisse of The Grace Project took a photo of my port scar tattoo. It’s a copyright symbol because 1) I’m a writer (Check out my first book, SHAKEN NOT STIRRED…A CHEMO COCKTAIL, my cancer memoir. It’s avail on Amazon and Kindle. And stay tuned for my second book, HOMESCHOOL HAPPY HOUR…IT’S 5 O’CLOCK SOMEWHERE, KIDS! It’s in my chemo brain still, but I’m working on it.) And 2) It’s my badge of honor aka my big damn c (with nods and namaste to Laura Linney and The Big C)

#stupidcancer #cancerisabitch #fuckcancer #leavemyfriendsalone #BigLoveToMySCARand GraceGirls …Especially my SCAR girls@marathonBarbie and @leahwrenstead36 who are both dealing with stupid recurrence.

Click HERE for a link to the Cancer is a Bitch song playing in the background of the slideshow on iTunes. It’s by my Redheads’s band called the Kicked-in Fence. They wrote it for me for my last chemo. It’s the theme song for #ShakenNotStirred.