Our glorious vacation is over. Sigh. Many thanks to our wonderful hosts for such a wonderful time. It was a fabulous 17 days. Best weather ever, which meant tons of good times on the beach, laughing, reading, sunning, and sipping–the things from which memories are made. This year’s trip was made even more memorable by the addition of one important item from home: my dear friend and medical sherpa Amy! She and her boys spent some time with us on our beloved Salisbury Beach and she now knows exactly why we love it so much.
A quick blast of photos as I tackle my gigantic to-do list, with promises to come back with a real photoglut soon. The clock is ticking and my list is long–gotta get ‘er done before my knee surgery on Wednesday. Among the gigantic pile of mail awaiting my return was the letter from my health insurance describing the procedure as “Lateral retinacular release open and arthroscopy, knee surgical, with meniscectomy (medial and lateral, including meniscal shaving) including debridement/shaving of articular cartilage (chondroplasty), same or separate compartment.” Blech. Ouch. Yuk. What part of that sounds fun? None of it. But alas, I will get through the lateral release, scoping, shaving, and debriding in hopes of rocking that bionic knee for years to come.
Meanwhile, I’ll think about this:
Until next year, Salisbury!
The very lazy blogger
It’s been a week since we landed on Salisbury Beach, and truth be told, blogging has not been in the forefront of my mind. I’ve been much too busy lying on the beach, listening to the ebb & flow of the surf, to think about this little blog. The weather has been incredible. There, I said it. At the risk of upsetting the weather gods and bringing to a halt the glorious sum and sumptuous warm temps, I’ve said it. good weather is not always a sure thing on an East Coast beach, unlike the relentless sun and heat in Houston.
We’ve spent the last week in beach-bum fashion: sunning ourselves, chatting, reading, eating, and drinking. Moving little, caring only about the status of the tide and the direction of the wind.
This beach is a restorative place, whether you need a respite from a workload or from the rigors of putting life back in order after a disruption such as cancer. As sure as the tides will flow in and out is the restoration that comes from this place.
Watching my children frolic in the waves, feeling the cold Atlantic surf on my feet, and smelling the salty air are integral to the restoration that is taking over my soul. Another 10 days of this, and my soul will be restored. .
We leave tomorrow, bright & early, for our annual trip to Salisbury Beach. I. Can’t. Wait. My bag is packed, I’m ready to go. My favorite girl made a count-down sign and has been packed for a week. The two male members of this household have yet to pack but will throw trunks & toothbrushes in a bag at some point today. Between now and our 6 a.m. departure tomorrow, a few important things need to happen, including one last swim as I attempt to hit my goal of 800 meters before I let myself go completely to pot on vacay; delivering a birthday gift to our favorite 18-year-old (happy birthday, Alexis!); and one last cooking club gathering tonight with some of my besties. We’ll toast the waning of summer while sipping bubbly in the pool.
My math may be off, but I think this is our 9th year to make the beach trip. Two summers ago, I was benched by the heinous post-mastectomy infection. Missing the trip was as tough as the ordeal that caused it, and I’m still in do-over mode. I usually invoke a 10 a.m. start time for drinking on the beach, but in true do-over fashion, I may just relax that rule and say anything goes in the beverage-consumption department.
The beach trip is always special and much-anticipated for many reasons: spending time with our surrogate family, escaping the brutal Texas heat, lounging on the beach, eating lobster, and going to Fenway Park for a Red Sox game or two. The trip has taken on additional relevance for me in the wake of a health crisis, because it signifies the light at the end of the tunnel and the reward for making it through the really rough stuff. It symbolizes a return to normalcy after a hellish span of time.
The bittersweet part of this year’s trip will be leaving our little piggie behind. While she would be a fun addition to our beach party, the logistics of getting her from here to there and back again are too stressful — for her and for us. She’ll be in good hands, though, with Keely the piggie-loving pet sitter. We stocked up on provisions for our little piggie, so it will be business as usual for her as she fills the hours in between breakfast and dinner.
On the way home from Costco, with a half ton of produce in the backseat, I saw this car and smiled to myself. I viewed the whimsical paint job as a harbinger of good things to come: fun, carefree, colorful days in the sun, surrounded by the people I love the most. I couldn’t help but notice the placement of the Modelo billboard just beyond the St Arnold’s Brewery tie-dye car as I prepared for our big trip–that’s some good karma right there.
This beach trip will be full of all of our favorite things, and we’ll have the added bonus of sharing our favorite beach with none other than Amy Hoover, my medical sherpa, and her 3 boys as they make the long journey home from Maine. Salisbury Beach is right on their way home, so we’ll rendezvous on the beach. How fun!
It’s Thanksgiving and I would be remiss if I didn’t remark upon the things for which I am thankful. This time last year I was fresh off the post-mastectomy infection train and trying to navigate life as a survivor. This year, the infection is finally in the rear-view mirror, and 8 surgeries later I’m on the road to reclaiming my normal life.
Living in Texas, where it’s warm enough to swim on Thanksgiving. People joke about how Texas is a whole ‘nother country, and it’s true. Everything is bigger here, and better.
Tennis. I’ve learned so much from the game, most notably humility, and continue to be challenged. People laugh when I say I started playing tennis because I like the clothes and had no idea how hard a game it is, but it’s true.
Things that challenge me to get outside of my comfort zone. Like modeling in the Couture for the Cause a few weeks after my latest hospitalization last fall. Yikes. After wondering what in the sam hell made me agree to do it, I ended up having one of the single best experiences of my life. And plan to do it again in March. Get your tickets now, before it sells out!
I’ll probably get in trouble for this. Or at least be on the receiving end of a cacophony of “You shouldn’t have done that” and “Did you have to?” and “That really wasn’t necessary.” But that’s ok; I rather like living my life on the edge. I’ve been known to stir the pot, to not let sleeping dogs lie, and to eschew the leaving of well enough alone.
So here I go.
He’s going to hate it.
See, Ed is not one for calling a lot of attention to himself. Or any attention, really. But sometimes, like ripping off a Band-Aid, it’s gotta be done.
Ed’s been our best family friend for a long, long time. In fact, it’s been so long, he’s dropped the “friend” and moved right on into “family.” Sometimes family has nothing to do with blood and genes and trees, and everything to do with the contents of one’s hearts and the meshing of like-minded souls. Assuming souls have minds, that is. I don’t think they operate on auto-pilot, do they?
I met Ed while toiling away in the publishing biz many moons ago in Austin. He and Trevor were in grad school at UT (Hook ‘Em!) at the same time, but we didn’t know each other during school; he was reading thick, musty books in the history department while Trevor built up his brain and hung with the geek squad in the computer science world. I hate to think of the years we wasted not knowing each other during that time, but our livers certainly breathe a sigh of relief. There was a fair bit of drinking going on in those days (as opposed to now, when kids’ schedules, middle age, and the threat of recurring cancer tempers my tippling). We did make up for some lost time, though, once we met; happy hours at Trudy’s with multiple Mexican Martinis and extra olives, watermelon margaritas at Maneul’s on South Congress, beers on the roof deck at Waterloo Ice House; and the infamous wine tasting club run by our resident oenophile Anthony King. I hope I never forget the carefree youthful nights spent lifting a glass, enjoying our youth & freedom. None of us will ever forget Trevor puking in the rose bushes at one of the Hess brothers’ houses, then coming back for more. Good times.
But back to work…Ed wrote and I edited. His hair was long back then (mine was too), and he labored over every word, every sentence, every TEKS standard (see how far we go back — long before the TAKS and now the STAR state standardized tests for public schools). I learned real quick that he was smart. Really smart. And he really cared about his work. He had such a high standard for himself that sometimes, just once in a while and not really very often (!), he made me wait for his work. I really don’t like waiting.
See, there was a progression to creation of a textbook, and we were both cogs in the wheel. Schedules were made, which we had to follow. Deadlines were enforced, because if our book wasn’t ready to go to print–back in the day before e-books and widespread Internet use — another publisher would get our spot and the book would be delayed. And we would all be fired. So I learned pretty quick with Ed that some tough love was necessary. I schooled him in the “good enough is good enough” principle that editors must embrace in order to keep the line moving. Oh, how that boy labored over every word, every sentence, every standard. There were days when I was a hair’s breath away from snatching the copy right out of his hands so that I could get my red pen all over it and keep the line moving.
It’s probably no surprise that Ed left publishing and took a rather circuitous route to teaching. A heart-wrenching detour to care for an ailing parent, work for an educational non-profit that trained teachers, a foray into self-employment in the handyman biz, a little time off to determine the color of his parachute (tricky when you’re a little bit color-blind), and finally, he was home.
Ed has a job that not many people would take on: he teaches kids who’ve been sent to the alternative school. Reasons for being sent there vary from fighting to drug use to crimes both petty and serious. The classes are small in number but large in ramifications. Several years ago, when Ed was contemplating whether to enter the teaching profession, I told him that he would be the kind of teacher who made a difference in kids’ lives. It sounds hokey but it’s true: he’s the sort of teacher who kids will remember always, and they’ll look back and say, “Man, Mr C really cared.” It’s true, and he does. He guides kids that a lot of people would cast aside as lost causes. He listens and becomes the sole person who cares. It’s no surprise to me that kids who pass through his class come back to visit, bring him a homemade Christmas treat, and mail him an invitation to their graduation ceremonies.
Those kids are not the only people who benefit from Ed’s unique brand of caring. After enduring the rigors and heartache of watching his dad die of pancreatic cancer, he became my sherpa when my mom got sick. I’ll always remember him telling me that if I thought it was bad now, it was gonna get worse. A lot worse. He was right. It was awful.
My mom knew Ed well, and when she moved in with me after retiring and moving away from Houston, it was Ed — not me — who she wanted as her caregiver for the icky parts of her cancer battle. She wanted him to sit through the class at MD Anderson on how to care for a PICC line, not me. I didn’t know it at the time, but she was trying to shield me from the routine horrors that make up a cancer patient’s life. When she was too frail and weak to step into my deep bathtub, it was Ed she asked for help. She would rather have had him see her in that state, to spare me from the eternal impression of being able to count each rib in her battle-weary, wasted body. It was Ed who she requested, not me. He made many food runs in the maddening game of “What can we get her to eat?” only to see her take 2 bites and be done. So much for that. But he never got frustrated, he never pressured her to eat. It was Ed who bore the brunt of the fallout from her radiated bowels. And that’s all I’m going to say about that.
It takes a special kind of person to volunteer for such service, but that’s just the kind of person he is. My mom knew it, and so do I. Ed’s the kind of guy who sets up the ladder and willingly allows grafitti in his garage. No project is too big, no mess too messy.
He’s the kind of guy who gives a little kid his watch to wear while patience runs short and naptime runs on by during sight-seeing in DC. He knows how to make a little kid feel like the most important person in the world.
He digs the deepest sand-pit every year at Salisbury Beach every year, even when he’d rather be reading his book, and waves off the old-man critics who pass by and warn of the pit’s collapse and threat of said pit swallowing little kids whole. He knows what he’s doing.
He knew Maddy, the best dog on Earth. Ever. In the history of dogs. He loved her with his whole heart, and finally gave in to my years-long pestering that he needed a dog of his own. Not once, but twice. And he let my kids name both dogs. Hence, a female chocolate lab named Snoopy, and a wily basenji-mix named Sugar.
We have Ed to thank for the Red Sox fever that exists in our lives. A native Mass-hole, Ed is a Sox fan for life, and he taught Payton the joys and heartbreak that is Red Sox nation. When Payton was four years old, at his first trip to Fenway, Ed showed his devious side when he made Pay think that Nomar Garciaparra hit a foul ball right into Payton’s lap. Eight years later, I think Pay still believes it really happened.
When Macy came along, a new bond was forged, and the strength of that bond sometimes startles and always amazes me. Mrs Dally, Macy’s first-grade teacher, told me in confidence one day that I might want to be careful because Macy told the class, during an exercise about friends, that her best friend is a 42-year-old man. In the case of anyone but Ed, this might raise a few eyebrows. But spend two minutes with him and you get it. In third grade, Macy filled out the “getting to know you” questionnaire from the teacher on the first day of school. For the question about her best friend’s favorite activity, Macy wrote: landscaping. Those two are tight.
It’s been a while since I’ve seen my dear friend and most beloved surgeon. He’s been busy this summer traveling and I’ve been busy avoiding his office. Not because I don’t love him and his staff–I do–but because the longer the gap in between appointments, the more I can pretend to be normal post-cancer.
Or so I thought.
I’m learning the hard way that there is no “normal” post-cancer. Most people (myself included) have the impression that once you’re diagnosed, have surgery, and complete treatment, you’re done with cancer. But you’re never done. This is one of the many hard truths about cancer: you’re never done.
Three-fourths of the way through my 2-week vacation, my thoughts more regularly return to cancer. And surgery. When I first arrived at Salisbury Beach, I thought, FINALLY! I’m here, I’m on vacation and can take a much-needed, eagerly anticipated, and well-deserved break from cancer. I’d thought of little else in the days leading up to my vaca and was ready, oh so ready to get on the plane and be there.
It’s been great — good weather, huge waves, plenty of cocktails & lobster, and the company of friends who’ve become family. I missed all this last year because of that damned post-mastectomy infection, and I was determined to make up for lost time this year. And I have. Yet my brain isn’t entirely on vacation, and as I’m soaking up the sun and relishing the cool east wind, my brain says “Whatach think about your upcoming revision surgery, missy?”
I don’t want to think about it. I’m on vacation. I should be thinking about what to drink next, or whether to get the 1-pound or 1.5-pound lobster. Yet I do think about it. The brain prevails, and my thoughts turn from all things beachy to thoughts of yet another surgery. While the upcoming surgery is a good one in the realm of surgeries, it still means arriving at the crack of dawn, being assaulted with the dreaded hospital smell, enduring endless digging to find a non-wiggly vein for the IV, undergoing anesthesia, coming out of anesthesia, and starting yet another recovery process.
A couple of months ago when I scheduled the revision, one of my wise friends said don’t you think you might want to do this after the kids go back to school? I said hell to the no, I want to get this done ASAP and get on with my life; I don’t want to wait even one more week because I want to be done. But now I know that I’ll never be done.
Yes, I will get to a point in which I no longer have surgeries and revisions and procedures on the horizon, but I’ll never be done with cancer.
Thoughts of the “big C” will infiltrate my brain here, there, and everywhere. On vacation. In the grocery store. On the tennis court. At the baseball field. In my bed, while I should be sleeping but instead am thinking. About cancer.
I woke up the other night–on vacation, mind you, with the windows open to the cool breeze and the sound of the crashing waves–thinking about cancer. Even when I’m sleeping, those thoughts are in my head. As my revision surgery approaches, I find myself with the same apprehensions I’ve had before every surgery I’ve had since my diagnosis. I may be nearing the finish line in terms of procedures required, but my thoughts refuse to budge. Instead of getting closer to being done, I realize there’s no such thing.
“for whatever we lose (like a you or a me),
it’s always our self we find in the sea.” — ee cummings
I love ee cummings. While I’m usually quite the stickler for adherence to the rules of grammar, spelling, and punctuation, I’ve always loved that cummings eschewed the rules and let the words and his thoughts flow unbridled.
He’s quite right about finding our selves at the sea. Not finding ourselves, but our selves. See the difference? Actually, it’s quite hard to see; it’s more something you feel.
Losing your self in the morass that is a cancer battle is fraught with peril. Having a potentially fatal disease changes you. It messes with your mind, shakes your sense of security, and makes you question the future. Having a potentially fatal disease at a young-ish age with young kids to raise really changes you.
My blogfriend and fellow cancerchick Michelle writes about this change. She writes of fear, of wishing for a return to the carefree, pre-cancer life. She mentions fear. The fear of recurrence. The fear of not being here to witness the millions of little things, seemingly insignificant, yet the essence of what creates our life.
See, for a cancer patient, the fear is always there. It resides deep in the “self” that we wish to find in the sea. Despite best efforts to be brave, move forward, and face the unpleasantness that is life with cancer, the fear is there. Sometimes just below the surface, like a homemade marinara sauce bubbling fragrantly and yummy on the stove. Sometimes right on the surface, as evident and painful as a sunburn the first day on the beach. Fear becomes the new normal. Michelle writes of the “new” normal:
“My new normal, I suppose [is] living each moment with equal parts gratitude, for experiencing it and really soaking it in now, and fear, that it may be over too soon.”
Hear, hear. Well said, Michelle.
Another blogfriend, Lauren, writes similarly. Because she is 5 years out from diagnosis while Michelle and I are more recent arrivals to cancerland, Lauren writes not of the ever-present fear but of the urgency to experience all the things we fear we might not be here to experience. The bucket list takes on a whole new priority post-cancer.
“It dawned on me that cancer survivors also have a different bucket list. One that isn’t the places we want to go, or what we want to buy or learn to do, but one comprised of the things we want to live long enough to experience and see come to pass.”
Yes, that’s true. While there are places I want to see and plenty of things I want to do, I know now, post-cancer, that there’s a difference. Everything is different post-cancer. I’m still looking for that new normal, and my bucket list changes somewhat, but one thing remains constant: while I’m still scared, there’s still plenty that I want to see come to pass.
I’m not much for big breakfasts. Not real crazy about greasy, meat-centric fare either, but I didn’t want to pass up a trip to Pat’s Diner this morning. It’s gotten great reviews from Payton. He went there one morning last summer while he was at the beach without me. I was home, just out of the hospital yet again and attached to a wound vacuum, which was enlisted to clean up the mess from the post-mastectomy infection.
My boy spoke highly of Pat’s, and while that alone would be enough for me, the fact that it’s run by some fellow Greeks sealed the deal.
Pat herself greeted us and showed us to our table, instructing a waitress to wipe the table, even though it looked plenty clean to me. Pat reminded me of all the Greek women I’ve known in my life–dark hair without a streak of grey despite her advanced age; sensible shoes juxtaposed with a snazzy dress, crisply pressed; maddeningly wrinkle-free skin; bossy yet loving countenance. She was very familiar to me indeed (minus the Boston accent, though). I smiled to myself as I reminisced in my head about my Thea Sophia and all women like her. Sweet but opinionated, fiercely devoted to family, and absolutely not content until everyone got up from the table with a full belly. The Greek women I know live by the mantra “Food is love made visible.”
The fellas alongside me ordered some of Pat’s finest: the “short” stack — pancakes as big as the plate; Amesbury omelette (spinach & lots of Swiss cheese); Irish eggs Benedict (corned beef hash instead of Canadian bacon); and the beach breakfast: eggs, toast, home fries, bacon, link & patty sausage, and ham steak. By all means, don’t forget the ham steak.
I was the odd one out with my egg beaters w assorted veggies & wheat toast. Instead of home fries, I opted for the other side dish: baked beans. They’re not just for breakfast anymore.
We did indeed get up from the table with full bellies, and as we passed Pat at the register on the way out, I told her we came all the way from Texas to eat at her place. She was delighted, and insisted I take a to-go menu with me as well as her business card. She asked me to send her a card from Texas. I promised her I will.
Trevor whispered to Pat that I too am Greek, and she was really delighted. She dug around under the counter a sec and handed me something, muttering that not everyone gets one of these. It’s a matted 8×10 color drawing of the exterior of the diner. Very cool. I will definitely send her a card from Texas.
Apparently my favorite Red Sox player likes having Texans in the house…since we’ve been here, he’s hit back-to-back walk-offs for Sox victories. Very nice. Last night’s was especially exciting because it was a walk-off home run. Just as we were hoping against extra innings, Jacoby delivered.
There will be lots of happy Sox fans on the beach today. I’m heading down in a few minutes for more fun in the sun. Last night’s lobster feast at Markey’s was as good as ever. Macy had asked if she could have some of my lobster tail, and rather than share what IMHO is the best part of the lobster, I said, “Get your own, kid.” We figured she’d eat part of the tail and we’d have extra lobster to put in scrambled eggs this morning. Then we learned that there’s no such thing as “extra lobster.” That bug was picked clean.
So there will be no lobster & eggs this morning. No matter; we’ll get more. That’s the beauty of being at Salisbury Beach — plenty of lobster, whether from Markey’s or steamed on site at the grocery store.
He’s taking requests, so if there’ something you want to see, by all means shout it out. His sand sculptures are pretty popular around here and are much admired, although I thought Macy might smack the lady who walked by yesterday and thought Perry the Platypus was a dinosaur. Sometimes being in the presence of art invokes strong emotions.
We’re all about traditions at Salisbury Beach. Whether it’s dinner at Markey’s or dessert next-door at Dunlap’s or sand sculptures on the beach, tradition rules, and this year our traditions are even more special. Like the Joni Mitchell song says, “Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone,” traditions become more important when threatened with extinction. To say I’m glad I’m here this year is to be loaded with meaning. I’m glad I’m here, in Massachusetts among friends I consider family at a beach my family loves. But even more so, I’m glad I’m here.