Torrents

Cancer steals so much. All the time. Every day. This I know for sure.

A couple of days ago I smacked my head upon this truth and watched helplessly as my dear friend experienced this for himself. His dad died from cancer a decade ago. Ten years, yet the grief was as raw as can be, the loss as crushing as it was a decade ago.

His dad was a handy guy who could fix anything. He made a good living — and supported four kids — with his hands. My friend learned from his dad and is handy too. Although his livelihood isn’t manual, he can fix anything, like his dad. He just doesn’t always believe it until it’s done.

My friend was fixing the spring on our gate (one of the many things he’s helped with around our house). The spring on the outside of the gate had lost some of its tension, and the screws holding it in place had wriggled loose after seven years of use. How many hundreds of times has that gate banged shut as my busy little family comes and goes? When we were building our pool, the gate and the fence came down, to be replaced by temporary, orange plastic fencing (seen behind the slabs of flagstone) that couldn’t contain my dogs. My then 7-year-old chased the escaped dogs across a very busy street, unaccompanied, but that’s a story for another day.
In the process of repairing the spring on the gate, my friend broke his screwdriver. The one that he inherited from his dad. No big deal, it’s part of a set and he has several others the same size. But he was upset–really upset–because along with the screwdriver, he felt like he lost a piece of his dad.

His rational brain knows that the screwdriver isn’t indicative of his dad’s presence or absence. His intellect knows that having the screwdriver doesn’t mean that he still has his dad, or that by not having the screwdriver he no longer has a hold on his dad’s memory. But his irrational side mourned the screwdriver. His emotional brain felt that he’d lost another part of his dad. As the wise poet Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Sorrow makes us all children again – destroys all differences of intellect.  The wisest know nothing.”

I’m very familiar with the destroying of intellect in times of grief, and I know just how my friend feels. After my mom died, I hung on to all kinds of her stuff: cookbooks, costume jewelry, unfinished embroidery projects, even her ratty old college sweatshirt. My dad has the more personal items — her glasses, her wedding ring, her driver’s license. I desperately wanted a piece of her, any piece, to remain, so I clung to her things in hopes of finding pieces of her.

Guess what? It doesn’t work. The desperation, the clinging, the hoping against hope are all for naught. Once the person you loved with your whole heart is gone, snatched away too soon by illness, there is no holding on to them. I’ve learned this slowly and painfully in the almost seven years that my mom has been dead. Her stuff is just that — stuff. It’s not her. She’s gone and that’s the brutal finality of experiencing the death of a loved one.

I’ve written before about how grief sneaks up on us, and can buckle our knees out of nowhere, even after years have passed. I know that this is what happened to my friend the other day: he was going about his business, engaged in a simple task that took little effort and yet would yield great satisfaction when done. The sun was shining, the workday was done, and a cold beer accompanied him as he unscrewed the rusty, spent screws from my gate. But once the screwdriver broke, so did the dam that most days holds back the torrent of sadness that is life without his dad. How many times has he said he wished his dad were here to help him with a DIY project, or to admire his handiwork upon a project’s completion? Too many times to count. And in the midst of an ordinary task being done on an ordinary day, the torrent rushed through.

“It’s so curious: one can resist tears and ‘behave’ very well in the hardest hours of grief.  But then someone makes you a friendly sign behind a window, or one notices that a flower that was in bud only yesterday has suddenly blossomed, or a letter slips from a drawer… and everything collapses.”  ~Colette


Separate the baby from your breast, ma’am

Here’s a funny story to jumpstart the week after a long weekend. Trevor saw this storyand sent it to me with a chuckle, remembering an incident that could have easily landed me in jail. Which incident, my smart-ass friends might ask? The one in which I was traveling with a nursing baby who wanted to eat just as it was time to go through security.

my little chica loved 2 things at this age: eating & new shoes

The baby in question was Macy, and we were traveling back & forth between Houston and Durham, NC, to house-hunt. Macy was born 4 months after the terrorist attackson September 11th, so airport security was an evolving mess. Can’t say that it’s improved all that much in the decade since.

this pretty kitty loved her chow

We had collapsed her stroller and sent it and all the baby paraphernalia through the x-ray scanner, and I was almost ready to walk through when she decided it was mealtime. Rather than subject everyone in the airport to a pissed-off, crying baby, I started to nurse her just before walking through the metal detector. The TSA agent barked at me to “separate the baby from my breast.” For real.

I told him in my firm-but-somewhat-respectful voice that she was currently eating. He said too bad, so sad, get that baby off the teat. It’s hard to say who was more unhappy at that moment: Macy for having her meal so rudely interrupted, or me at the TSA agent’s stupidity. I pried my baby girl from her gravy train and hoped that jackass agent would get a shot of breast milk right in the eye.

Life is hard for nursing moms. When Payton was an infant he was having a meal at the food court at First Colony Mall and an older woman approached me to tell me that was disgusting. I assumed she was talking about the Chicken McNuggets one of my companions was eating, in which case I would have wholeheartedly agreed. However, she was referring to me nursing my baby. She thought I should “take that into the restroom.” I looked at her in disbelief and asked her how she’d like to eat her lunch in the mall restroom. Not so much? Well, neither would he. Sheesh.

My nursing days are long gone, which is a good thing considering the current state of my breasts, but I’ll always remember the outrage I felt at the airport and at the mall. Just like an elephant, I never forget.


Becoming Benjamin Button

I haven’t seen that movie, but I feel Benjamin’s pain with premature aging. I don’t recall anyone telling me in the early days of this cancer “journey” that being thrown into menopause a decade earlier than normal would be such a bear. In fact, I don’t recall hearing anything at all about being thrown into early menopause. Yet another lovely bit of fallout from a cancer diagnosis, for sure (insert a boatload of sarcasm here).

Menopause is a bitch on any level. It’s certainly not a contest, and some women have it way worse than others. I’m thinking of one darling friend in particular who’s been dealing with the ‘pause for 10 years. Yuk. It just sucks, and I’m because I’m officially old and crotchety, I’m not in the mood to look on the bright side or try to find something positive about this shitty situation. Correction: I just found something positive — it gives me an excuse to use the word shitty, one of my faves in the cursing arsenal.

I first came face-to-face with chemically-induced menopause two summers ago when my favorite oncologist recommended hormone suppression since my breast cancer was fueled by estrogen. Get rid of the food supply, starve the cancer; makes perfect sense. Suppressing the estrogen for me was achieved by the dynamic duo of Tamoxifen and Lupron. For the lucky uninitiated, Tamoxifen is a pill-form of chemo that we members of the pink ribbon club take every single day for 5 years, minimum. The Lupron is delivered once every three months via a gigantic needle that left me bruised for weeks.

Enduring the injection was a piece of cake, though, compared to the side effects of Lupron: constipation, joint pain, bone pain, general body pain, dizziness, hot flashes, fatigue, stuffy nose, nausea, sweating, insomnia, weakness.

Great.

Add that to the side effects of Tamoxifen–bone pain, hot flashes, loss of balance or coordination, persistent fatigue or weakness, among the highlights–and you’ve got a hot mess.

No wonder I feel bad.

Then I look in the mirror and I feel even worse.

Side effects of menopause are just as fun as the drugs’ side effects: hot flashes, osteoporosis, hot flashes, mood swings, hot flashes, changes in your female gear, hot flashes, mood changes, hot flashes, change in vision, fatigue, hot flashes, night sweats, hot flashes, joint pain, hot flashes.

Did I mention the hot flashes?

The combination of the drugs’ side effects and general menopause side effects are mind-boggling.

The unsung side effects from all this mess are mostly vanity-related but no less troubling. A thinning of the hair on one’s head accompanied by a growth spurt in the hair on one’s face. Decreased collagen in the skin. Dry skin. Dark circles under the eyes. Brittle nails. Wrinkles. More wrinkles. Changes in hair color and texture.

Any part of this would be unpleasant enough when dealing with it at the “normal” time, whatever the hell normal is anymore. Going through the ‘pause with girlfriends could be fun: let’s stay up all night, sweating and hot-flashing, while watching our moustaches grow. Sure, we’ll be extra tired and grumpy the next day, but hey — we’d be tired and grumpy anyway, right? If I’m going to become an old bitty before my very eyes, I want to do it with my BFFs.

But wait, I’m on an accelerated schedule. I’ve got the Fast Pass to menopausal hell, while the women in my peer group are still relishing their early 40s. Botox is for fun, not necessity, and plucking billy goat chin hairs is reserved for grannies. 40 is the new 20, right? Except for me; 40 is the new 60. I am the granny in this scenario. I’m feeling more kinship with Betty White than with J-Lo.

To quote Sheryl Crow, “No one said it would be easy. But no one said it’d be this hard.”

 


Couture for the Cause, redux

I was trying to download some photos from the professional photographer’s website for the Couture for the Cause this past Saturday night. They have some beautiful pics of the event, and a handy “Post to WordPress” feature, but when I tried that feature, it posted the pic without allowing me to add any text.

So I will use the non-professional photos, taken by one John Burrmann, which IMHO are plenty good. See for yourself. He focused more on the people than on the venue, so I will paint a picture in your mind of the stately grounds and lovely estate that housed our fashion show and fundraiser for the American Cancer Society. The house is nestled onto a huge lot that slopes gracefully to a private lake. The runway was constructed on the lawn, with chairs around the perimeter and small round tables sprinkled around to allow for casual viewing of the big show. 

The show is a big deal. Last year the event raised some $94,000 for the ACS, and I hope this year exceeds that amount. Having cancer survivors model the fashions is a brilliant idea, both because it encourages the audience to dig deep into their pockets, and because it gives us survivors a chance to celebrate life. What’s more important than that after we’ve faced a terrible disease, difficult surgeries, ongoing treatments, and uncertain futures? Nothing. Not one thing.
There were several breast cancer survivors modeling again this year, and we talked amongst ourselves about how many years out we are. There was also a 20-year-old leukemia survivor who’s been in remission for 15 years. One model had brain cancer and is facing another reconstructive surgery next week. While all of the survivors who participated have a different story, we also have a commonality, and it was nice to unite in that commonality for one night and celebrate life.

The amount of volunteer hours and professional time that go into the gig are staggering, and the result is a first-rate production. I’ve been looking forward to this for weeks, and being an experienced survivor model I was ready to do my thing. I had the ultimate fun of having two of my dearest friends model with  me. Amy and Christy both rallied at my side when the Big C wrecked up my life, and it was such a fun thing to have them by my side for the big event. Unfortunately, the excitement was clouded by sadness from the unexpected death of our sweet dog Harry.  Because he died late Thursday night, I made the executive decision to not tell my kids until after school on Friday. It didn’t seem right to tell them Friday morning and send them off to school; I wanted them to have the luxury of grieving in private. I fretted all day Friday about how to tell them. I should have consulted my intrepid breast surgeon, Dr Dempsey, who has honed the skill of delivering bad news to an art form. I’m sure she would have had just the right words. As it turned out, I delivered the news then had to rush off to rehearsal for the show. My head wasn’t quite in the game for rehearsal, and I struggled with the finer points of the runway choreography. The “one and a half” and the “down and back” refer to the way we walk on the runway all decked out in our finery, and while it’s not hard, it took some brainpower to master.

Lenny and Tamra are the dynamic duo who take these fashion shows from cute clothes and accessories to a full-blown production. They pick the clothes for each of the 22 models, add accessories from jewelry to hats to feathered headpieces, design the sets and lighting and choose the music, then orchestrate all these pieces to cohere into the sum total of an amazing show.

We were instructed to show up at 6:00 sharp for our 8:45 pm showtime. Hair & makeup were time-consuming but fun. The show’s theme of the Roaring Twenties was reflected in the intricate hairstyles that featured soft waves and lots of pin curls. Makeup was subdued but included false eyelashes and red-red-red lipstick for each female model. As we went from chair to chair in the war room of hair & makeup, we felt like celebs preparing for a red carpet debut.

check out those eyelashes!

After the work was complete in the war room, we hustled to the dressing tent behind the runway. Talk about a chaotic scene. Each model is assigned an assistant called a dresser. The dresser’s job is to help us into our clothes, put on our jewelry and shoes, and make sure we are ready to leave the tent and present ourselves backstage for final inspection by Tamra. No detail escapes her sharp eye, and she is ready with a safety pin to bind a gap, a hairpin to tame an errant mane, and a keen sense of how a headpiece should lay or a scarf should be tied.

There’s not a lot of time to get dressed, and even with our dressers helping, it’s a crazy, crazy scene. In fact, as soon as we left the runway in one outfit, we were instructed to start taking off as much as we could while hustling back to the tent. Getting dressed was even crazier this year because two of my outfits were very light-colored — one white with a black skirt, one ecru with an orange ruffle — so trying to pull them on quickly while not smearing makeup on them was no small feat. My intricate flapper-style hairdo complicated the speed-dressing process, too, as there were 100 bobby pins holding my hair up that needed to be delicately avoided. There’s nothing delicate about a tent full of women and their dressers in the middle of a fashion show. The production assistants were yelling out our names to let us know we were due backstage, and a few male assistants were in the tents, too, making sure we staying on task and on time. There’s no place for modesty in the tent.

The first scene featured black & white fashions and was kicked off by the professional models. These girls know what they’re doing, and they know how to get the show started. This lucky guy got to strut his stuff with one of the pros, Mariah. She and I chatted in the war room and she’s as nice as she is beautiful.

The professional models may have had all the right moves and the picture-perfect looks, but we had the best cheering section. A sampling of our supporters:

The applause was thunderous, and there was more than one instance of hootin’ and hollerin’ when we took the stage. I only wish I’d channeled some of Mariah’s grace and stage presence when I hit the runway in my black & white outfit.

This isn’t something I ever would have picked for myself, but that’s part of the fun of the fashion show. The skirt was rather short, and the fishnet hose were a bit out there, but it was fun, fun, fun!

Christy’s black & white outfit was a romper, which Dr Dempsey referred to as a onesie. Some fishnets and a beret completed the look.

Amy’s outfit for this scene was so cute, and she rocked it.

The true-blue friend who brushed my teeth in the hospital and mediated more than one altercation with a white-coated professional was utterly transformed into a hot-hot-hot model!

Not only did I have some of my best girls modeling with me, I also had Dr Dempsey struttin her stuff. She did an outstanding job puttin’ on the ritz, and while I enjoyed every minute of modeling with her, I hope she doesn’t quit her day job! (She’s the blond, on the right.)

The blond in the beige dress is my favorite breast surgeon!

She told me she had an alter ego on the runway, and now I know that to be true. Being together for this event also gave her the chance to fuss at me for not coming to see her for my post-mastectomy follow-up. I’m a bit behind on that, but I’m happy to report that I went yesterday.

Scene 2 was tangerine-themed, and my one-shouldered dress was super fun (but a little too blousy). The ecru color with the tangerine ruffle was cute, but I’m not posting a pic because it’s not very flattering. It’s my blog, and I can withhold photos if I want to.

Instead of showing a not-so-great pic of me, I’ll show you the pros doing their thing:

The one bad thing about being involved in the fashion show is not getting to see everyone on stage. While these girls were modeling these cute dresses, I was frantically getting out of outfit #1 and into outfit #2.

I was able to watch this husband-wife combo strutting their stuff, and I would have loved to have seen more. They were having a ball and the crowd loved them. 

This lovely lady is a longtime survivor who gives newbies like me a lot of hope. She also rocked the runway in her high heels.

Our third scene was print dresses, and they were so so so cute. Amy looked like a million bucks in hers.

Christy and I got to walk together for this scene, and we both love our dresses. We had to try hard not to giggle and talk while cruising the catwalk.

The pros glammed it up in long dresses in gorgeous colors.

The show was almost over at this point, and we didn’t have to change into another outfit but just get ready for the big finale.

All the models circled the runway in a triumphant finish. Our faces hurt from smiling, our feet ached from struttin in heels, but our hearts were full of pride and happiness.


Couture For The Cause