Crimes in suburbia

Something bad happened at my place sometime between the hours of 3 pm Tuesday and 7 am today.

My sweet little garden rabbit got his head bashed in. 

I sure hope it wasn’t a hate crime.

Who could hate this guy?

Someone apparently did, because they roughed him up good.

Poor rabbit. 

His ears were sheared right off his head. And there’s no recovering from that kind of head wound.

No one is talking. I guess they’re afraid of recrimination.

This guy stands sentry at the front door, and has been quite attentive for years to the goings-on in our little patch of the neighborhood.

He is getting old, though, and perhaps he dozed off.  Or maybe he didn’t cry out for fear of dropping his basket of flowers. I’m sure his hearing isn’t what it used to be, so perhaps he snoozed right through the incident and didn’t even awaken when the poor rabbit got whacked.

The frog couple who live in front of the sentry dog were too busy canoodling to notice any wrong-doing. 

The pink bird of happiness had a birds-eye view of the incident, yet claims she didn’t see a thing. Not sure how she could have missed her fallen comrade, but birds are fickle creatures, and she is a bit of a birdbrain. Good thing she’s so pretty, because she’s definitely not long on brains.

I sure wish someone had let me know that the rabbit was in trouble. He’s had a few run-ins with the neighbor’s cat who likes to creep through the flower beds, but nothing this serious; usually the cat just knocks him off his feet, and Garden Rabbit typically manages to collect himself. I’m always temped to let Harry loose when I see that mangy old cat sneaking around my flowers, but I try to be the bigger person.

Garden Rabbit’s friend, Sir Lops A Lot, was shocked and saddened to hear the bad news. 

As you can see, Loppy has suffered a similar injury, albeit not fatal. Thankfully, through the marvels of Super Glue, Loppy’s ears were saved and reattached, and he made a full recovery. There’s no such happy ending for Garden Rabbit, unfortunately.

I had high hopes that perhaps Angel Dog might have seen or heard something, but clues are scarce. A.D. stands in remembrance of our dogs who’ve gone to the great dog park in the sky and has always been very quiet. I suppose it comes with the territory in that business. Solemn and silent. And a little rusty.

The third rabbit in our warren had nothing to say about the crime, either. Always a little shy and usually half-covered in flowers, I shouldn’t have expected much from her. 

Maybe she was jealous of Garden Rabbit’s height and gleaming white hide. She is pretty dingy and diminutive. Sometimes it’s the quiet ones you have to watch out for the most.

Crackle Frog is way too out of it to be relied upon for any useful information. He’s spent his entire life sniffing pool chemicals, so no one believes a word he says anyway. 

Not even Ellie the Water Girl had any information, and she’s usually the source of the best gossip. You know what they say about elephants. 

The last remaining hope for some insight into this brutal crime rested with the piggies. With the most smarts in the animal kingdom, I knew I could count on these two little pigs to solve the mystery of the Garden Rabbit attack. 

The Winged Thing promised to confer with Black Betty.

Surely with the brainy girls on the case, we’d catch a break and find the killer, restoring peace & order among the yard art.

The brainy girls studied the clues and meticulously retraced the steps of the assaulter in hopes of cracking the case. Working mostly unassisted and with free range of the front and back yard, the brainy girls identified a suspect.

Here’s his mug shot:

I never quite trusted that shifty-eyed, booze-swilling flamingo. He always seemed like a bad seed.


Find the good

It’s another muggy, overcast day in H-town today. I was starting to grumble to myself as I headed to the store for more Mucinex because sickness won’t leave our house. This time it’s Payton who has been felled by the sore throat/congestion/fatigue bug that has some admirable staying power. I was grumbling at the grey day in which, as Jack Johnson would say, the horizon has been defeated. There’s absolutely no delineation between horizon & sky, just endless layers of grey. I was grumbling because I’m longing for a shot of sunshine that we winter Texans take for granted in the “winter months.” I was grumbling because it’s another day in which I can’t open the roof on my beloved little car.

Just as I was perilously close to becoming awash in grumbles, I remembered the 2 promises I recently made to myself, and suddenly I sat up a little straighter (albeit in my closed-roof car) and resolved to be less grumbly. The first promise–to be more warm, loving, and huggy–was short-lived. Those of you who know me well: go ahead and laugh. It’s ok. It was a ridiculous idea and I’m not a bit surprised that it never got off the ground. I’m much too snarky to re-invent myself as Little Miss Sunshine. Snarky and with a bit of a sharp edge is how I’m wired. I’d really like to be more gooshy and emotive but I’m also realistic. So instead of this you get this

and this

and this

and this

and always on the lookout for this guy:

Thank you, Roger Hargreaves.

It was a good experiment, to be sweeter and hug more, but I tend to identify less with Little Miss Sunshine and more with this:

Moving on.

My second promise to myself was to find the good. I want to look for and to find a little bit of beauty everywhere, no matter how grey the day. It’s a bit of a mind shift, I suppose, from crotchety and snarky, but I think I can do it. I’m pretty sure I have a better chance of finding the good than becoming a hugger.

Yesterday I noticed the blooming plum trees at Costco. Beautiful, spindley trees inside a big-box store, bursting with delicate purple flowers made me smile. I actually stopped, pulled my giant cart to the side, and looked closely at the burst of spring in front of me. Inside the store. When I got home, I noticed a few more bursts of spring, right in my own backyard.

The next round of coral roses is a-coming!

The dewy drops on the rose’s leaves caught my eye. Each little drop was shimmery and lovely.

The pink gerber daisies never fail to make me smile. They’re cheerful and jaunty at the same time.

Same for these guys. Can never remember what they’re called but I think of them as Blackeyed Susans. Whatever their name, the bright yellow blooms can stand in for the sun, just for today.

Then there’s the lantana. The teeny little blooms pack a powerful punch of color. The pink, yellow, and orange combo is my favorite, and I have it in not one but two pots in my backyard.

Those powerhouses of color will suffice for the lack of a pinkish-orangeish sunrise today.

And last but not least, the cute little ornamental kale that we bought for Piper, thinking she’d like to munch on its curly little leaves and explore its purple center. It’s not a showy bloomer like some of the other cast of characters that comprise my landscaping, but it has its own quiet charm. 

So there you have it: I found the good.

Oh, I’ll still be snarky today. You can count on that. And I will likely be a little stiff-limbed when it comes to hugging. But I’ll still be looking for the good and wishing everyone a good day.

Pride goeth

“Pride goeth before destruction, and haughtiness before a fall.”

Proverbs 16:18. Heard it a million times, because I’m a prideful person. Ask any of my tennis buddies about me being at the net when a heavy hitter comes in fast to deal with a high, slow, floating ball. Common sense dictates that the player at the net back up, lest she get pegged at close range. I, however, prefer to stand my ground knowing full well that I’m a sitting duck. Seems too much like an admission of defeat to back up, and I’d rather get pegged than retreat. It’s stupid, I know. It’s dangerous, for sure. And yet, once dug in, I stay. Too proud to retreat. Somehow in my prideful, haughty brain, it makes more sense to get hit–hard and at close-range–than to back off.

Pride equals pain sometimes, but that’s the way I’m wired.

I was mighty prideful, and perhaps a bit haughty, about the fact that everyone in my house has been sick–two members of my family got the creeping crud twice–yet I remained healthy. Escaping unscathed from the bevy of germs that invaded my house for several weeks wasn’t easy, but I did it. And I was a bit smug about it, so I guess I should have been ready for the fall.

I hate being sick.

I hate being incapacitated.

I hate being dependent on others.

I hate resting when I could be doing. Something. Anything.

I really hate having my daily routine up-ended.

The tennis season has just started up again, and I’ve been making some serious progress in the gym lately. No to mention the colossal clean-up that’s been going on at home; closets organized, pantry emptied out & re-stocked, piles of debris chucked onto the recycling pile. This is no time for me to be sidelined.

Sore throat, fever, congestion, cough, and fatigue be gone! I’m done with you.

Tomorrow will be a better day.


So I’m minding my own business on a rainy Saturday morning. On a morning in which the thunderstorm woke up my favorite girl, and her hungry little piggy, at 5 a.m. While that’s not my ideal start to a Saturday, we made the best of it: a huge mug of coffee for me, some hot tea for her, a blanket for each and a snuggle by the blue-green glow of the TV. I didn’t really want to be up that early, and I certainly didn’t want to be watching “Hillbilly Handfishing,” but I’ll take the quality time with my girl.

The last thing I expected on this rainy day was to be blindsided by grief. It happened innocently enough, as it tends to after several years of loss. After the sun rose and the handfishing concluded, I was searching through the cupboards in the game room for a small paintbrush to touch up some paint. No paintbrush to be found, but my search did turn up something I didn’t expect to find: a hospice booklet left over from my mom’s cancer “journey.”

For those of you fortunate enough to be uninitiated in grief and loss, you may not understand. For those of you who have been initiated in this dreadful state, you know. You know exactly how grief comes out of nowhere to blindside you.

I remember reading this booklet, in the fall of 2005 when my mom’s cancer “journey” was coming to a really yucky end. The hospice people were wonderful, providing much more than just care for my dying mama. They had care packages for my two young kids and for my niece and nephew. The oldest of YaYa’s 4 grandbabies was 8 when she died, the youngest (who happens to be my favorite girl) was 3. The teddy bears and coloring books given to them by the hospice workers probably didn’t register in the same way the “Gone From My Sight: The Dying Experience” booklet did with me.

Because the whole experience of my mom dying was rather surreal, I don’t recall feeling strange about being handed a booklet with such a title. I don’t recall wondering what The Dying Experience was all about, because we were living it. How ironic to be living The Dying Experience.

I do recall being grateful for the booklet’s upfront, go-at-your-pace approach to grief. This is the one thing I know for sure: no one can dictate another person’s grief, and no can anyone dictate another person’s death experience. As the booklet so aptly describes, “Each person approaches death in their own way, bringing to this last experience their own uniqueness. This is simply a guideline, a road map. Like any map, there are many roads arriving at the same destination, many ways to enter the same city.”

Hmmm, I certainly never likened death to a city, but it sure makes sense. Of course, I never thought I’d be facing thoughts like these, much less the death of my sweet, beloved mama. My own life as a mother had barely started, with a 3-year-old wild animal disguised as a very creative and outside-of-the-box little girl, and a headstrong 6-year-old boy who would astound me in the years to come with the memories he retained of his YaYa. How could my sweet mama be leaving me just as I was starting to learn to navigate this not-always-tranquil motherhood?

How could she be leaving me? “In her own time, in her own way,” as the booklet told me. Reading on, I learned another truth: “Death is as unique as the individual who is experiencing it.”

The booklet goes on to say that there is a shift that occurs within the dying person, which takes them from “a mental processing of death to a true comprehension and belief in their own mortality.”

Another thing I learned the hard way.

I’m certain that my sweet mama knew she was dying. Being told by the gurus at MD Anderson that the clinical-trial drug didn’t work to arrest the cancer that was eating her alive is rather concrete. Being told that the only thing left to do is call hospice is rather concrete as well. She knew. But in her quiet way, she didn’t talk about it. No bitching or moaning, no complaining, no ranting or shaking her fists at the heavens for being dealt such a rotten hand.

Instead, she hugged each doctor (she was really good at that, and I wish I’d inherited that trait; I’m not much of a hugger). She gathered herself and without shedding one tear or divulging her true feelings, she thanked the docs for trying so hard to save her. And she went home to plan her funeral.

For real. She wanted to plan it all–from the psalms read to the hymns sung to the outfit she would wear–so that those of us left behind wouldn’t be stuck trying to figure it all out. At a time when she could have stuck her head in the sand and said to hell with it all, she buckled down and spent her remaining strength on making things easier for her family. That’s the kind of person she was, and it’s a damn shame that she is with us no more. A bright and precious light went out when she died.

I thought I was prepared. I’d had months to wrap my head around it, after all. Watching her go from a vivacious, outgoing Nosey Rosey who never met a stranger to a wisp of herself should have prepared me. Seeing the life slowly fade from her immensely bright soul should have eased the transition from her being the center of our lives to her being gone. Being witness to the slow yet certain creep of cancer’s all-encompassing grasp of all things Barb should have steeled me to the reality I was facing.

And yet, none of those things happened. As Gone From My Sight: The Dying Experience so succinctly explains, “Focus changes from this world to the next, as the dying person loses his/her grounding to Earth.” She lost her ground to Earth, and we lost the glue, the sweetness, the center of our family. There is no preparing for that. There is no transition, no steeling. Although I knew it was happening and had accepted the fact that my beloved mother was dying, I was not prepared.

Just as I was not prepared for the onslaught of grief that hit me today as I came across the hospice booklet. In the middle of a perfectly normal day, while searching through a cupboard for a paintbrush, I was instantly transported back to the awful, wrenching reality of her death. I had no idea the booklet was in that cupboard. More importantly, I had no idea that the magnitude of grief, the bottomless pit of despair, could come back so quickly. In an instant, the swirling eddy of loss surrounded me, as heavy today as it was 6 years ago. As Kate Winslet said as she dedicated her Emmy win for the HBO miniseries “Mildred Pierce” last fall, “It doesn’t matter how old you are or what you do in your life. You never stop needing your mum.”

The last page of  Gone From My Sight: The Dying Experience contains a Henry Van Dyke poem unfamiliar to me. I don’t remember reading it when I received the booklet; my guess is that I didn’t make it that far. But now I have, and I’m glad I did.

I am standing upon the seashore. A ship at my side spreads her white sails to the morning breeze and starts for the blue ocean. She is an object of beauty and strength. I stand and watch her until at length she hangs like a speck of white cloud just where the sea and sky come to mingle with each other.

Then someone at my side says: “There, she is gone!”

“Gone where?”

Gone from my sight. That is all. She is just as large in mast and hull and spar as she was when she left my side and she is just as able to bear the load of living freight to her destined port.

Her diminished size is in me, not in her. And just at the moment when someone at my side says: “There, she is gone!” There are other eyes watching her coming, and other voices ready to take up the glad shout: “Here she comes!”

And that is dying.



6 stores, 2 hours, no deal

My favorite girl needs some new kicks.

Her feet are officially bigger than mine. Not a big deal, really; I’m not a sentimental mom who gets upset at the idea of the little kids becoming big kids, and let’s be honest: my size 6 1/2 feet aren’t too hard to surpass.

But a big deal because we looked at a gazillion pairs of shoes, and she didn’t like any of them.

6 stores, 2 hours, no shoes.

And not for a lack of trying.

This kid has always had big feet. We could see them in the sonogram images a decade ago when she was still percolating in my belly. We referred to the baby as a jackrabbit, and she did not disappoint.

Last year, in third grade, she started wearing some of my shoes. Mostly TOMS and tennis shoes, which she respectfully asked to borrow and usually remembered to put away afterward.

Those were the good old days.

When she told me that her tennis shoes were too small, I showed her every pair in my closet, hoping she would wear a pair of mine and buy me some time so I didn’t have to rush out and shoe shop right away.

Silly woman.

Should’ve known that wasn’t going to fly. One pair was too white. Another had a pink swoosh, and she doesn’t do pink. Yet another had too much red in the trim, and she despises red. The last one was just “blech” as she put it.

So off to the mall we went, with visions of shoes that are not too white, no pink, no red, and no blech in our heads. She said she prefers Nike, and she thought she might want black tennis shoes, so we looked at black shoes.

This one has a little net inlay in front of the swoosh that did not meet her approval.

This one was a “weird shade of black.”

This one looks too much like cleats. 

This one looks too much like lace.

This one might have worked, and actually made it onto her feet, but was a little too small and there wasn’t another pair in her size.

Moving onto shoes that aren’t black.

This one was too silver.

This one was too white, but the stripes were kinda cool.

This one had too many holes. 

This one almost worked, but the blue is too royal.

This one might have worked if the yellow wasn’t so bright.

This one was too dotty.

This one would have worked, but the swoosh looked suspiciously like it might be red.

Oh, mercy.

Maybe it’s time to try another brand.

Reebok is good. Lots of kids wear them, and their design isn’t quite as elaborate as Nike’s: no lace, no mesh, no strange colors of blue. But no, none of the Reeboks were quite right, either.

Moving on to Asics. Super cushy and comfortable. Nah, not crazy about the 4-way stripe.

Ok, fine, let’s try Under Armour. Lo and behold, there was a pair of Under Armour tennies that warranted a try-on. Looking good, I’m thinking; maybe this fruitless search isn’t so fruitless after all.

Big sigh. The Under Armours were a little big and slipped on her heel when she walked.

My last hope was Adidas. Come on, Adidas — don’t let me down.

Yowza, there’s a black pair with greenish-blue stripes that she likes. Woohoo! And they’re on sale — even better.

Oh wait, there’s only one box for the black pair with the greenish-blue stripes in the whole store. And it contains a pair of size 12 shoes. All sorts of cuss words were running through my head at this point. Turns out, that pair was the last one of the previous year’s model; there are no more. The current model, however, is readily available. And it has a tangerine-colored trim with a teeny bit of yellow. Tangerine is THE color right now, which Little Miss Fashion-Forward Jackrabbit knows. I’m thinking this may work, I’m getting my hopes up.

But not for long: the tangerine is deemed too red, not the vibrant, trendy tangerine at all.

Which brings us straight back to Square One. Without new shoes.





Happy hearts day!

Because I love you all so much…

today, on this day of love and hearts,

instead of ranting about the injustices of the cancer world,

here’s a small sampling

of some of my favorite things,

which I hope will make you smile

and set your heart alight

and remind you

of all that is good

and all that is right

and all that is to be cherished

Happy Valentine’s Day!

And now, one last thing:

Really, Bratz??

MGA Entertainment, maker of the controversial Bratz dolls, introduces its latest addition to the line at the Toy Fair in New York this week. Because the regular Bratz aren’t trashy and offensive enough, now MGA claims to be committed to and supportive of the fight against cancer by rolling out bald versions of the Bratz girls under the “True Hope” campaign.
Bratz girls before:

Bratz girls after:

I thought the pinkwashing of products for breast cancer awareness was bad. Wait, I still do. But this takes the “charitable” marketing scheme to another level. At least the bald Bratz don’t look like hookers. Although the super-short plaid skirts, the over-the-knee socks, and the platform heels come close.

I don’t even know where to start. The blatant misspelling? The idea that being a brat is a good thing? The over-the-top tartiness of the original line of dolls? I’m not a fan of the original Bratz, so it’s no surprise that I’m not embracing the new line, either.

For those who are a fan of Bratz, whether the slutty version or the bald version, you may not get where I’m coming from. I will also allow for the possibility that a pediatric cancer patient may find comfort from a bald doll, albeit one that portrays a completely unattainable version of feminine beauty and one that might suggest to said child that heavy eye make-up is do-able during chemo. Bratz fans may find nothing wrong in the messages conveyed by the original Bratz gang to little girls, and perhaps will similarly find nothing wrong with bald Bratz dolls being sold under the guise of children’s cancer charities. But I have a problem with both.

Bratz dolls, IMHO, encourage impressionable little girls to focus on their image over all else. They introduce little girls to the idea of dressing like women, which is rife with problems and causes little girls grow up even faster. I’m not the only one with this opinion.

“When young girls have an open-ended toy—like a generic baby doll—it encourages creativity,” says Diane Levin, a professor in the early childhood education department at Wheelock College in Boston. “But the scenarios of Bratz dolls tells them how to play—to dress up, do your hair, go to fashion shows. The dolls encourage girls to think about themselves as sexualized objects whose power is equated with dressing provocatively.” While we women have come a long way, baby, in terms of equality, these dolls have the potential to reverse our course and send us back into the “mommies don’t go to college” mentality. If little girls get the message that they must be sexy to be valuable, we’re in real trouble.

The American Psychological Association did some research on this very issue and released its findings in the Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls. Girls are bombarded with images and messages that are not age-appropriate, which the APA Task Force says can have a negative impact on self-confidence, body image, self-esteem, sexual development, and mental health.

All that from a doll? You betcha.

Yet MGA’s CEO, Isaac Larian thinks otherwise. Shocking. He says that girls want Bratz because they are “beautiful,” and he denies the idea that there is anything sexual about the dolls. “I’m looking at a whole wall of them in my office, and I don’t see them wearing sexy clothes,” he says.

And from the Baby Bratz line:

Huh. Perhaps Larian needs to get his eyes checked. Or do a quick google images search, which is what I just did. Or perhaps his version of “sexy clothes” is different from mine. Since when are fishnet hose and over-the-knee boots part of the dress code for girls ages 4 to 8, which is the demographic targeted by Bratz? Since when are red lipstick, beauty marks, and adorned, itty-bitty panties cool for babies?

And what of the Bratz Web site, which promotes major superficiality and vapidness? While waiting for the transition from one screen to another, the message flashes “Please wait … it takes time to look this good.” Each doll’s “profile” used to include her “favorite body part” but that nifty little feature appears to have been axed.

More insanity from Larian, who says that “MGA’s mission is to provide joy and happiness to kids around the world. We believe children are our legacy and want them to be healthy, have confidence in their imagination and build their dreams into reality.” Like the reality of the body images of these dolls? And we thought Barbie’s proportions–estimated to be 39-21-33 and without enough body fat to menstruate, were totally whacked. At least Barbie preaches the message that girls can do anything they want to do, pursue a variety of careers, have financial and emotional independence from men, and become who they want to be rather than who society, or Isaac Larian, tells them they should be.

Larian says “We [MGA] have a responsibility to children and we take that responsibility very seriously.  The “True Hope” dolls are designed to support and comfort young girls and boys who so bravely endure cancer treatments.  MGA also wants to be an active supporter in the fight to develop lifesaving treatments for children.”

Maybe I’m splitting hairs, but it seems to me that if MGA really wanted to be an “active supporter” in pediatric cancer treatments and research, they’d donate more than the $1 from the sale of each doll, as currently planned. With a suggested retail price of $14.99 each, that $1 donation amounts to a pittance and reminds me of the pathetically paltry amount (an estimated 19 percent) of Susan G. Komen for the Cure’s proceeds that go toward breast cancer research. If you really want to make a difference, skip the dolls and send the $14.99 directly to a cancer charity. For pediatric cancer, I recommend St Jude or Alex’s Lemonade Stand. For breast cancer, you know I love The Rose, located right here in Houston. If you’re not sure which cause to donate to, check out Charity Navigator.

Maybe I’ve got it all wrong and the True Hope dolls will become a major tool in the battle against cancer. Maybe they will be the linchpin on which cancer research hangs. Maybe I’m cynical from the deluge of pink products purported to help eradicate the disease that kills more than 40,000 women in this country alone every year.  It’s estimated that more than 12,000 kids younger than 15 are diagnosed with a childhood cancer in the United States each year. I’d love to know how many of those sweet babies would want a True Hope doll.


Women who changed the world

Rachel’s funeral is today, and I woke up thinking about her. About her enormous contribution to our BC blogging world. About how many people’s lives are better because of her. About how she spoke from the heart, with tremendous passion, and a healthy dose of snarkiness. About how even as this vicious disease consumed her, she wanted things to change, and was willing to type one-handed and battle multiple symptoms & side-effects to get her message across.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

Margaret Mead.

Margaret Sanger.

Harriet Tubman.

Joan of Arc.

Sojourner Truth.

Dorothea Dix.

Emmeline Pankhurst.

Rosa Parks.

All of these women fought tirelessly and valiantly for their cause, whether it be women’s rights, health care, or basic human rights. All of these women became noted cultural icons because of their deep belief in their cause. They risked a lot of promote and further their ideas, and the world is a better place because they did.

It was Margaret Mead who said “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

To this list of thoughtful, committed citizens who have changed the world, I add one more name: Rachel Cheetham Moro.

Our loss is tremendous. Our gratitude to her runs deep. Our hearts are full of emotion. Our minds are consumed with thoughts of her, of this disease. Our focus is singular. Our dedication is renewed.

RIP, Rachel. And thank you.

Thinking about it

I ran into a friend yesterday who I hadn’t seen in a while and she asked me how I’m doing. Great, I replied, just great. And in that moment, I truly was. I’d just finished a kick-ass workout and had a few minutes to watch my team play tennis against one of our old rivals. I had a bye this week so I could enjoy the two matches going on side-by-side, plus the gaggle of tennis hens flocked in between courts to visit. Those of you living in colder climates would scoff at our gaggle, in the bright sunshine and temps in the low 50s I’d say, bundled up like Texans tend to do when it gets “cold.” There were tights under tennis skirts, gloves, hoods pulled tight around sunglassed faces, and blankets wrapped snugly. The wind was downright nippy, after all. Good thing we have such fulfilling fellowship to help keep us warm.

Anyhoo, I had a precious little chunk of time after the gym and before picking up my carpool for early-dismissal day, and I was surrounded by friends.

Great. Just great.

Big smile.

Despite the sadness that’s permeated this week with the deaths of Rachel and Susan (and the flurry of blog posts, Facebook posts, articles, Rachel’s beautiful obituary, and personal stories about Susan like this), I’m great. My schedule is full but not overwhelming (just the way I like it). My laundry is done (if not folded and put away). My closet is clean and tidy (I can’t think when clothes are draped and shoes are jumbled everywhere). I’m great.

My friend was glad to hear that I’m great, then asked, “How do you not think about ‘it’ all the time?”

By “it” of course she meant cancer. And at that moment, I wasn’t thinking about “it.”

I thought for a minute before answering. This is an important question.

How do you not think about it all the time? While I don’t think about it all the time, cancer does indeed hover around me an awful lot. Sometimes in the foreground, front & center, and sometimes in the background, inching ever closer and waiting for any opportunity to swoop in and crash the party.

I explained to my friend that for me, it’s like this: you know that feeling when you get caught in the rain, or maybe thrown in a pool, and it’s a while before you can change clothes? That feeling of shirt, pants, and undies plastered to your skin? Heavy and uncomfortable, but not debilitating? It’s like that.

When fully clothed and drenched, one can still function. One can remain drenched for a long period of time and still get through the details of one’s day. The wet clothes cling and maybe even chafe a little, but one can breathe. One can move, onward and upward and from the rainy parking lot to the car, or from the pool into the house. Perhaps one’s heart rate jumps a bit as the adrenaline rushes, and maybe one even gets a little short of breath from the shock of the deluge of water or the careening into the pool, but one is still fully functional.

Myriad reminders of cancer assault me every day. Some reminders are overt, like the news of Rachel’s and Susan’s deaths on Monday, or more covert, like the strange dichotomy of my life’s timeline: events that happened before or after cancer. Reminders can be lasting memories, like the chalkboard sign my favorite girl drew declaring “Mom is feeling better!” a day after I was sprung from the hospital after my mastectomy. They can also be tactile, like the weight of the fleece blanket I used during each hospital visit settling atop my weary body.

The visual reminders pack the most punch: the battle lines of scars that crisscross my body, of course. The prescription bottle of tamoxifen that has a long-term lease on my kitchen counter. The drawer full of bras in various sizes, from the totally flat-chested “it’s an utter waste of money” bras to the “I sure thought this would work for the finished product” bras. The humongous stack of EOBs and bills from the various doctors: breast surgeon, anesthesiologist, infectious disease specialist, oncologist, OB-GYN, lymphedema/massage specialist, GYN oncologist.

Cancer changes people. Inside and out. In ways too numerous to count. In ways both miniscule and grand. Not all the changes are bad, mind, but know this: you will never read one word on this blog, now or ever, about cancer being a gift. If cancer is a gift, I sure as hell hope there’s a gift receipt, because I’m going to return it. And if you’re the sort of person who thinks cancer is a gift, you are most definitely not invited to the party.

Cancer encourages weird thoughts. Because of cancer, simple things like hearing Rihanna sing about love in a hopeless place makes me think not of star-crossed lovers in the projects, but the compassion of friends during life’s most difficult period.

Cancer panics me into thinking that any little twinge is a metastasis. Headache? My cancer has spread to my brain. Hip pain? Oh, mercy, it’s in my bones. Cramps? Ovarian or uterine secondary tumors. Just a couple days ago, I tweaked a muscle on my left side, in between my ribs. For an entire day, I couldn’t inhale fully; taking a deep breath hurt, and my first thought wasn’t the rational realization that I should have gotten a stool to reach the shelf in the laundry room, but the irrational thought that the teeny spot on my lung–most likely a byproduct of having pneumonia as a child–has grown into a tumor so big I can’t breathe.

Cancer elicits a full range of feelings and emotions. There’s exhaustion, anger, gratitude, fear, confusion, relief, distrust, joy, anxiety, and sadness. Sometimes all in one day. There are times in which I’m going about my non-cancer-related business and a wellspring of emotion surges up out of nowhere. My brain must be on constant overdrive. Sometimes the wellspring of emotion is bad and overwhelming, like the thoughts of recurrence. But sometimes it’s good, too, like the happiness humming through my heart when my septuagenarian friend at the gym showed me a photo on his iPhone of his golden retriever, Abby, covered up to her neck in his bed. Why does my heart sing at the obvious love this man has for his dog? Because cancer reminds me that life is fleeting and the good times aren’t guaranteed, so savor the small things. Cancer reminds me to be present in the moment, for you never know when idle chit-chat by the treadmill will flow into a display so sweet in its simplicity, yet so rich in its meaning. That Mr McKay loves Abby enough to tuck her into his bed with a down comforter is rich. That he chose to share that with me is even richer, and that I slowed down enough to engage him, instead of rushing off to my next to-do item, is the best part of all. In my pre-cancer life, I would have been in a rush to get out the door after my workout. In my post-cancer life, I know to slow down, listen to the people around me, and drink in their life experiences. While the weird thoughts that cancer brings get more attention, the beneficial thoughts are there, too.

I had a smile on my face all day thinking of Abby and her besotted owner. No doubt my thoughts will soon run amok again, imagining all manner of cancer-related craziness instead of lingering on the pure sweetness of a man and his beloved dog. Before long, I’ll again feel the soggy weight of wet clothes on my back as thoughts of cancer snake their way through the dense thicket of neurons in my brain.

BC claims a two-fer

The icy grip of death got a two-fer yesterday. The world lost not one but two beautiful souls and because of this vicoious disease known as breast cancer, two important voices in the blog-o-sphere are forever silenced. Rachel Moro Cheetham, better known as Rach from the Cancer Culture Chronicles, and Susan Niebur of toddlerplanet both died yesterday. Rachel was the one who enlightened me to the appalling statistics that exist in the financials of the Susan G. Komen “For the Cure” organization [emphasis mine]. Rach is gone, but her tell-all pie chart will live on. Susan was an astrophysicist with NASA and mom to a 4- and 6-year-old boy who fought inflammatory breast cancer in her spare time. She compiled a list of science-related links, for kids and adults, on her blog full of science, parenting, and “the joy of life after cancer” that will no doubt become part of her legacy.

Rachel and Susan are beautiful examples of the pioneers in BC blogging. They blazed a trail and lit the way for newbies like me. They challenged and questioned and refused to wrap themselves in pink ribbons. They inspired me. By setting such a stalwart example, they encouraged me to do the same.

I’m not alone in my admiration for and my grief over these two women. A few blurbs from the BC world about them:

“Pretending that the pain isn’t here would be a disservice to the raw honesty of their voices.”

“I am stepping up to be a fearless & rebel friend. We need to keep their voices strong & heard by many.”

“If I could dim the lights on my blog, I would. We all took a big hit today.”

“I feel more resolve to stir the hornet’s nest.”


“Talk about hopes, dreams, plans, fears–then get out and live the life in front of you.”

“We will mourn and we will be sad and then we will become a FORCE that will not be turned back.”

Powerful words that befit powerful women.

When I created this little blog, it was initially to keep those closest to me informed of the steps and stages in my cancer “journey.” The plot thickened, however, and that “journey” became more perilous. A mysterious post-mastectomy infection, a month’s worth of hospitalizations that spanned the summer and three different hospitals in my great city, multiple surgeries to contain the scope of the infection’s destruction, two infectious disease teams, countless bags of antibiotics–both in the hospital and at home, and 267 days of oral abx gave me a lot on which to report.

Then came the harrowing process known as reconstruction. Thanks to the infection, nothing was simple, and what should be the final stage of the BC “journey” was anything but. Two revisions later, there’s still work to be done, and I’ve got many miles to go before I sleep. This little blog went from “Hey y’all, here’s what’s happening” to “y’all aren’t gonna believe this,” and in the process, this little blog morphed from a news bulletin to some serious therapy for its author and creator. Without the outlet that is publishing my most pressing thoughts, I could possibly be staring through the peephole of a padded cell instead of pounding out my latest missive on my iPad in the comforts of home.

I knew when I started this little blog that I would learn from my fellow BC bloggers, but I didn’t know I’d learn so much about this vicious disease that, for a time, took over my life and that has forever changed my life. As I put myself out there in the blogosphere and in the twitterverse, I found more and more blogs written by women like me–everyday gals from all walks of life in all corners of the globe confronting a nasty beast while also maintaining a career, running a household, and/or raising children. I’ve gotten to “know” some incredible women whose writings have educated, humbled, enlightened, and entertained me. Somewhere along the way, in between the updates and follow-ups that become the fabric of a cancer patient’s life, we became friends. United in our commonality of being members of a club we never wanted to join, we bond over blogs. We hold our breath as our blog friends report the news of the ever-ominous follow-up scans, willing it to be NED (no evidence of disease) news. We wake to the words on the screen written by fellow foot soldiers in this wrenching war. We cheer aloud in front of glowing computer screens late at night when there’s news of a final radiation session, and get teary-eyed  as we envision our blog friend ringing the bell in the infusion suite to signify the completion of chemo. We nod our heads in tacit understanding of the trials & tribulations that are a cancerchick’s life. We lean on each other and support each other, hopefully in equal measure.

In the throes of my cancer “battle,” I had a hard time reading the blogs of the cancerchicks who were battling MBC, the acronym for metastatic breast cancer. I shied away from those blogs because they were living the life that scared me the most. See, in my naivete, I wanted to believe that a cancer diagnosis at age 40 was the worst thing I’d ever endure (even thought I knew that facing the death of sweet mama was a million times harder). I wanted to believe that my cancer was the good kind, the easy kind, the kind that would never come back, even though in my heart of hearts I fear that it’s only a matter of time. In the beginning, I read the BC blogs from the outside, looking in, but before long, I became one of them. Like Rachel preaching the deception of SGK and dreaming of escaping from it all in a red karmann ghia, and like Susan arguing with her oncologist and imploring him to discharge her from the hospital after too many days away from her precious kiddos, I became one of them. They led by example and encouraged me to widen my sphere of influence. They were like rock stars in the blogging world — I looked up to them. Like getting an autograph from an admired celeb, a comment from them on one of my posts on my little blog was a thrilling keepsake. That their comments are no more fills me with great sadness. Thinking about those they leave behind — Rachel’s scruffy little dog, Susan’s sweet little boys — sears my heart.

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “Do not go where path may lead, go instead where there is no path & leave a trail”  Rachel and Susan, you have my heartfelt thanks for leaving a trail.