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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
—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.