Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes.

IMG_3857Over the past year I have been asked if E’s cancer changed anything.  What a preposterous question.  Of course it changed things.  It changed everything. But that’s not the question really being asked is it?  You’re all too polite and kind to ask the big messy Q. Fear of intruding. Or opening wounds.  Being considered nosey.  But this is me you’re asking. I’ve been an open book since I started this blog in 2011.  Poured my heart out. Spilled my guts. Let the cat out of the bag.  Shared my deep dark dreary thoughts in this diary.  So it’s perfectly okay to ask the real question on your mind. 

HOW has cancer changed things?

If you were to peek into our house this Christmas, you’d probably smile, possibly sigh with relief, that everything appears the same.  Sa-sa-sa-sa-same.  Same family gathering. Same festivities. Same decorations and ornaments hung on the tree.  It all looks very much like it did last year.  And the year before.  And the one before that.  Right back to when E and I shared our first Christmas together.  There have been a few different houses.  We’ve all grown older.  The kids are all now adults. There’s a grand daughter.  A daughter-in-law.  But the mood in the room is unchanged. Family jokes. Teasing. Cheerful banter.  Laughter.  Misty eyes.  Magnanimous grateful hearts.  Goodwill, and all that jolly ho-ho-ho.

Because of this ostensible normality it’s difficult at times to imagine that E is a cancer survivor.  Sometimes I can’t even believe he had cancer at all.  I think, did we really go through that?  His 23 days in the hospital, now a distant memory slowly fading to black.  I have to look at the photos that documented his stay there to bring clarity to my recollections.  Fill in the gap between fact and fiction.  Did this really happen?  And sadly, have I diminished this life-altering experience to just another story that I tell?

Yet it was real.  It did happen.  Truth is, it changed everything.

There’s the obvious things.  The loftier higher-self transformative stuff.  Gratitude for a life being spared, given a second chance.  Awareness of the fragility of our earth walk.  Delight in the small precious things.  Refined appreciation for all those we hold dear.  Joy in the everyday and the mundane.  Concern for all living creatures.  Reverence for the fleeting passage of time.  Appreciation of all that is good, for I am steadfast in my belief that there is more good than not.  Awe and wonder at the sheer miracle of being here at all.

I thank God for this metamorphosis of the spirit. For giving my caterpillar heart butterfly wings.

But there’s more to this story.  There’s the underbelly.  The ugly shit that is difficult to admit.  Even to myself.  There’s the stuff I think I’ve kicked out the door and sent slithering down the road, only to turn around to find the ugliness standing in front of my kitchen sink doing dishes.  Oh the shameful cowardly resentful thoughts I’ve had there.  The devil’s face reflected in the white porcelain dinner plate.  The monster in the bottom of the silver pot.  The creep in the cast iron frying pan. All me.

There’s the fear that grips my gut and tears at my bowels. The anger that erupts and gasps and flares out of nowhere. The sudden and unforeseen tears that sting my cheeks.  The frustration with a life interrupted.  The impatience with everything, including E.

A foul tenacious undercurrent of dread flows through my nervous system. Silently terrified that cancer will return. It’s the uninvited guest in the room. The one that has outstayed its welcome.  Can’t take a hint and leave. It’s the disturbing uneasiness beneath my flesh. The choking, suffocating, stifling vice grip. And at the heart of all this maelstrom, one thought prevails.  Will this sinister beast return and snatch E in it’s Godzilla grip forever?

At times, often when I least expect it, I’m angry. Pissed off that a year later E is still in recovery. My impatient unkind inside-voice says, ‘get over this already.’  I want things to move according to my agenda, spoiled child that I am. Not E’s natural healing process.  At the risk of sounding like Gilda Radner, ‘there’s always something.’  Rogue aches and pains throughout his body that seem to have nothing to do with cancer.  Yet in some way they do.  The hip bone is connected to the thigh bone, after all.

I cry. Like a baby some days. These crying jags are erratic. Out of the blue. Unpredictable. Indiscriminate and downright impolite. They take me by surprise. But then so did the diagnosis of cancer a year ago.

E’s personal mantra is that he “comes from good stock.”  Hardy.  Resilient. Tough as nails. It’s his Grizzly Adams fortitude and true grit that gets me through the hour of the wolf.  It’s the call in the wilderness that keeps me going. One baby-step at a time.

Fuck cancer anyway.  We don’t give up. That much hasn’t changed.

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: The Annual Thanksgiving Jam.

316591_10150309850086266_1794444596_nI love Thanksgiving.  It’s like Christmas without the retail hook and hassle.  In Canada it’s a fairly low-key, somewhat muted holiday.  I find this understatement peculiar, since we celebrate in October, which is smack-dab in middle of Autumn’s glory. In most of our country, it’s a month of colorful spectacle.  Fall is strutting her stuff.  Showing off in every possible way.  Crisp days.  Big blue skies.  All those bold radiant colors.  Red and orange dominate the scene.

But in typical Canadian fashion there isn’t a lot of hoopla around this holiday.  Perhaps because it falls during a month when we have a fun and flamboyant fete. Creepy costumes and free candy are far more compelling than counting your blessings and gobbling turkey. Maybe having two holidays in the same month is just too much merriment and mirth.  Thanksgiving is like the peas of October.  You just want to get it over with so you can get onto the good stuff.  Have some dessert.  Lick your lips.  Let it all hang out.

At the end of the day, there’s just none of the fanfare that our southern neighbors bestow on their holiday of the same name.  No Macy’s Parade. No colossal pro football marathons.  This isn’t our biggest travel time of the year. We don’t flock from hither and yon to be together.  That’s what we do at Christmas. Plus, the next day isn’t Black Friday, the American fever-pitched super-sized shopping day of the year.

That’s just not us.

Technically the Canadian Thanksgiving occurs on the second Monday in October.  However, I doubt many of us actually celebrate on that day.  I bet if we took a poll, we’d discover many of us “do it” on the Sunday.  This allows at least one full day for recovery. It’s damn near impossible to fill your face with a ton of tryptophan-laced turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, canned or homemade cranberry sauce, a buffet of sauce-laden vegetables, copious amounts of wine or beer, ridiculous amounts of sweets, not to mention pumpkin pie, all topped off with strong freshly brewed coffee, with or without a hit of Baileys.  You can’t possibly expect to go to work or school or daycare the next day.  Seriously, can you?   No.

The Americans get Black Friday and Christmas shopping.  We get an alarm clock catapulting us from our collective Canadian tryptophan comas.  It’s a deplorable first world problem.

So in full-out Canadian style rebellion we celebrate a day earlier.  It’s defiant I know.  I guess to be fair, and God knows I’m all about fairness, not all Canadians do this.  But this is the way it goes down at our house. And has, for as far back as I can remember.  I’m a real stickler for family traditions. Just the way I roll. Or rock.  Bang my head and fall over.

When I was younger I completely overlooked, and took for granted, the “thanks” in Thanksgiving.  I didn’t appreciate the earth’s bountiful harvest, its lavish cornucopia.  All that was lost on me.  Christmas was the shining star, the big holiday kahuna and nothing could compare. It was all I could think about from the moment the Maple trees, that lined our street, turned from green to gold.  Yes, the family meal was delicious.  And yes, having a long weekend in the middle of October was nice too.  But beyond that, it was a lukewarm holiday at best.  No matter how hard Ma tried to make it lovely and festive.  It was never more than a pre-curser to Christmas. Well into adulthood I was still wishy-washy when it came to Thanksgiving.

300420_10150309848916266_1742277456_nBut that all changed about twenty years ago.

Something wonderful and miraculous and completely unexpected happened.  It began with a casual impromptu jam on the Saturday night of Thanksgiving weekend.  It was unplanned. Unrehearsed. Unscheduled. Nothing fancy. No big fuss.  Beer and chips.  Maybe a crudites or two tossed together.  A few bluegrass musicians.  And a whole lot of really fine music.  Little did we know that this modest unpretentious shindig would blossom into something legendary.  At least in our circle, amongst our tribe.  That first Saturday night grew into something so glorious and stupendous.  One of the highlights of our year. Talked about for days and weeks afterwards.  Imagine that.

Quite simply, on that Saturday night twenty years ago, our Thanksgiving was transformed.  A new tradition arose from the ashes of apathy.

The following year we planned the occasion.  Somewhat.  We invited a few more jammers, family and friends to join us for an evening of appies and music.  It was still an intimate and simple affair. A kitchen party through and through.  But the day after, basking in the glow of an evening done well, we began planning the next one.  By year three, we opened our home to even more musicians, family, friends, colleagues and neighbors.  There was a generous overflow of musical talent, food, laughter, kindness, joy, love and memories.  Beautiful memories.

304123_10150309850896266_2094474882_nThus began B and E’s Annual Thanksgiving Jam.

For over a decade we gathered for these jams on the Saturday night.  The morning after, I would wake up early to put the turkey on for our traditional family dinner.  This was a smaller, more intimate festivity attended by our immediate family and a few close friends.

We celebrated and gave thanks this way for well over a decade.  The Saturday Night Jam and the Sunday Family Feast.  Weeks of planning and preparing food followed by two intense days of celebration became too much for this old broad.  E and I made the decision to combine the jam with the feast, pare back the guest list to a manageable number and host a less demanding Thanksgiving Jam on the Sunday evening.  This has been pleasant and enjoyable.  But just not the same.

Last Thanksgiving we had no idea what was in store for us.  E may have had some inkling because the cancer was brewing in his body.  But the rest of us were clueless.  It was a big year.  One that took its toll.  Drained us both physically and emotionally.  We were often in the mud wrestling with the devil.  Other times we danced and soared with the angels.  We were all over the place spiritually.  E has had his recovery to contend with.  But so have I.  Sometimes I think he’s farther along that road than me.  I’m still untrusting of the process of life.  Wary and weary at times.

But we’re here.  I’m grateful for that.

And because we’re so very grateful, E and I decided that this year we would resurrect our Annual Saturday Night Thanksgiving Jam.  We’re doing this thing.  Celebrating the past year and all that it has taught us.  We’re celebrating our life. Our family. Friends. Music. Laughter. Joy.  Love. There will be turkey and ham and all the traditional trimmings. There will be apple and pumpkin pies.  Autumn will be showing off.  So will we.

And our hearts.  Our sweet Canadian hearts will give thanks for the opulent abundance that is all around us.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: 1 Million Likes and My Dad will Quit Smoking.

IMG_1700In an earlier post I shared some of the things I was angry about since this dance with the Big C began last fall.  Mostly bat-shit crazy, Mad Hatter things that have been overwhelming and downright mystifying.  The bubbling brew of oozing gooey undisguised and unrestrained emotions.  My psychological backpack is already jam-packed, yet I continue to gather more of these sour candies with each passing day.  It’s been a real slice and I am grateful to everyone who is on the road with me.  I’m especially grateful to those with large hearts and even larger compassionate muscles who haven’t judged.  Just walked the mile in my moccasins.

One of the big things I have wrestled with in this messy muddy life I lead is that there is just no way to sanitize these emotions. I wish I could.  But the truth is, they are there.  Maybe they always were and E’s cancer just brought them roaring to the surface. Demanding that I take note.  So I have.  And the thing is, I can’t paint a pretty picture.  Won’t even try.  All my life I have been referred to as “such a nice person.”  Well, there isn’t anything nice about this.  None of it.  So if you will indulge me one last purge, one final rage, one more dump about anger, then I think I’m done here.

Warning: Some of you may want to quit reading at this point.  No hard feelings. This isn’t for everyone.  I get that. You can move on and read the blogs about flour-free recipes or how to make a tee shirt from toilet paper.

There is one colossal thing that I’ve been livid about for years.  It trumps all those other things I’ve been mad about.  Makes them seem almost trivial.  Not even deep enough to be superficial. It’s the Big Kahuna of piss-offs.  I intentionally left it out of my first rant because it’s been such a sensitive thorn in my side.  And believe it or not, I was still trying to play nice in that post.  But since this is the final puke-up, here goes.

E smoked.

Not casually.  Not after dinner.  Nor while on vacation.  Not like those rare birds who bum smokes at parties but never indulge otherwise. It wasn’t a bad habit he picked up late at night while playing in bands.  E was a hard-core smoker from the time his was nine years old.  He chain smoked. Tons. It was the first thing he did when he got up in the morning and the last thing at night.  If he couldn’t sleep he got up and had a cigarette. It comforted him in ways I never could.  It was his best friend. An extension of his yellow nicotine stained fingers.

No one knows with 100 percent certainty that smoking was the cause of his disease. Even the doctors who treated him, and the nurses who cared for him, left the door open for other possible explanations.  Cancer does strike randomly.  Nonsmokers get lung cancer.  Health nuts, who only eat organic foods and run ten miles a day, get stomach cancer.  People who wear big floppy hats and cover themselves in gobs of suntan lotion get skin cancer.  We know this to be true.  Stress and inflammation are often at the heart of many diseases, from head to heel.  I get this.

But here’s the two thousand pound elephant in the room.  E stuck a carcinogenic substance in his mouth for 45 years, every day, all day.  He has mouth cancer. Mathematical equations aside, odds are cigarette smoking most likely caused this thing.

And I’m mad as hell about that.

Before our daughter was born I begged and pleaded with E to quit.  Once M was here, I tried every manipulative trick in the book.  Of course, intellectually I knew this had to be his decision. He had to hold his own come to Jesus meeting.  I had no control over this.  I understood addiction. Having grown up with an alcoholic father and personally battled with uncontrollable sugar cravings my entire life, I knew what misery looked like.  I’d grovel and drag myself through the mud just for an O’Henry Bar. I know what it’s like to wake up in the middle of the night needing to feed.  I will always be a sugar addict, whether I eat the stuff or not.  I’ve also smoked.  I know how hard it is to quit. I bawled like a baby for two weeks solid the last, and final, time I quit.  It was pathetic.  Not one of my more graceful and exemplary times.

Because I knew intimately how difficult quitting smoking could be, I exercised as much compassion and understanding as was possible with E. But I’m only human after all.  And I have my own crap to deal with. There was always this underlying resentment about him not quitting.  I often viewed it as defiance.  Not something he couldn’t do.  But wouldn’t.

There were a couple of occasions over the past 20 years where E attempted to quit.  His longest smoke-free period was about four months.  Most of his efforts were futile though.  When it came to quitting, the best he could commit to was “someday.”

Over time, my protests and admonishments ebbed and flowed in volume and frequency.  I also had a comrade, a buddy, a conscientious objector who shared my concerns.  I went from wanting to shield my daughter from a swath of cigarette fumes to having her join me on the protest line.  M and I were a united front on this issue.

At times we were passive aggressive in our objections and disapproval.  Never really coming out and saying, “You’re an asshole for treating this so lightly,” but implying it just the same, in our offhanded comments.  These ran the gambit from the descriptive, “The garage looks like a butt factory” to the succinct, “you reek.”  His habit was bringing out the worst in us.  We were evil twins.

But once E’s mouth cancer was confirmed, no one dared to say, “I told you so.”  We knew there was a good possibility something like this could happen. He was playing a risky game with much at stake.  Sad thing is, E knew it too.  That was the frustrating part.  Just like quitting  might happen “someday” so could getting cancer.

It’s a peculiar thing how love supersedes everything at times like these. Instead of thinking, “I knew this was going to happen.” All I could think about was losing him.  Nothing else mattered.  The cause was irrelevant.

Having said all that, I’m still angry.  At E for not quitting before it came to this.  At his doctor, for not ever suggesting he should quit.  At myself, for not being more persuasive, not fighting hard enough.  At God, for not answering all those millions of prayers.

Pointless self-flagellation.  I know.

One last thing.  All over social media sites, but Facebook in particular, there have been these images of kids holding signs that read something like, “My dad says that if I get 1 million ‘likes’ he’ll quit smoking.”  I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry the first time I saw one of these posts.  For the most part these are scams called “Like Farming”, which can generate tons of money for the owners of those phony pages.  Scams or the real deal aside, I found them disturbing.  Because M and I know the truth.  It will take more than 1 million “likes” to make someone’s dad quit smoking. No matter how much they love you. It just doesn’t work that way. Nothing’s that simple.

I’m angry about that too.

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: 23 Days

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On Friday, April 26 E had surgery to remove cancer from his mouth just below the tongue. It was radical. It was a miracle. It was the longest 23 days of our life.

We held vigil. We prayed. We held hands. We circled the wagons. We kept the fear at bay. For this is what love does. There were evening cross-town drives. Desolate cement parking garages. Elevator rides. And endless corridor walks. The TV amused and kept him company. There was a lot of hockey. He discovered Duck Dynasty. A clipboard filled with lined paper was his only means of communication the first week. He said a lot with his eyes and hands.

Family, friends, and colleagues visited daily. There were puppy dog visits in the sunny tranquil courtyard. Our daughters danced and entertained. Our grand daughter brought sweet little girl kisses. There was a quiet Sunday morning visit with our son.
Strawberry plants grew on the windowsill. Happy-face daisies sprouted from the end of his bed. Photos blossomed on the cork board. Magazines and books grew in little stacks. Coffee from the outside was brought in. There was a glorious view from his seventh floor room. It was heavenly.

And this is what those 23 days looked like.

IMG_1064 IMG_1076 IMG_1135 IMG_1257 IMG_1099 IMG_1150 IMG_0693 IMG_1117 IMG_1263 IMG_1113 IMG_1066 IMG_0695 IMG_1177 IMG_0689 2IMG_0691

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: Lessons in Gratitude and Patriotism.

IMG_1825Grateful and patriotic.  That’s how I felt last weekend when E and I escaped again to the mainland.  This time there weren’t any medical procedures tagged onto the end of our trip.  No Big C cloud hovering over our heads like an alien space ship.  Just two glorious days of freedom and fun with our oldest daughter A.  Quite simply, it was divine. And exactly what the doctor ordered.

I like to keep an attitude of gratitude. I’m happier and far more optimistic when I do. Life just feels richer and amplified when I see the glass half full. This thankful continence isn’t always easy to maintain though.  Sometimes I engage in rip-roaring pity parties of one. But most of the time I count my blessings.  And they are many.

Last Saturday afternoon, smack dab in the middle of a busy crowded downtown Vancouver street, I had an epiphany.  The sun was shining gloriously overhead.  The energy and positive vibe in the city was electric.  Music and laughter, breezy summertime conversations, and the smell of suntan lotion wafted from every street corner.  It was picture perfect.  Endorphins flooded my limbic system, and by doing so released a profusion of happy childhood memories of summers at 204. In an instant, I was as lighthearted and mirthful as a ten year old girl running under the garden sprinkler. Yippee!  It doesn’t get much better than that.  Another neat thing happened in that moment. My gratitude muscle expanded and skyrocketed, then soared heavenward through the brilliant clear blue sky.

Giddy with glee, I turned to E and said, “Life doesn’t get much better than this.”

He looked at me as if I had suddenly grown two heads. I fully appreciate why he would find my declaration untrue, given the circumstances of our life right now.  But before he could protest or disagree, I repeated, “Life doesn’t get any better than this.  In this cosmic moment, which is all we have, life is perfect. Just the way it is.”

Then he got it.  His eyes welled with tears and he smiled. Big honest smile.  Right from the heart. One filled with gratitude.

Later that day, our daughter took us to a baseball game at the Nat Bailey Stadium, where the Vancouver Canadians and the Tri-City Dust Devils were playing. I can’t think of a more definitive summer diversion or pastime than going to a ballgame.  Some people find this game boring. Too quiet and slow.  But for me it is beautiful.  Elegant. Subtle and masterful. First and foremost, a team sport.  Yet each player has a time when they stand alone at home plate.  Armed only with a wooden bat, years of practice swinging it, the sagacity and the wits of a street-fighter, the indelible voice of their coach always with them, the encouragement of their team mates, the cheers of their devoted fans, and the genuine love of the game.  It is there that each player, one by one, bravely faces the nine guys from the opposing team, all focused on the same thing. Stop this guy from getting a run.

My love of the game goes way back.  The Old Man loved it too.  He was one of the guys who started Little League in our hometown.  He coached and umpired games well into his senior years. When I was young, I used to tag along and sit in the weather-beaten wooden bleachers and cheer on ‘our guys.’  It was during those long hot steamy Northwestern Ontario summer nights, that I fell for the game and the boys who played it. During my Toronto years, The Old Man loved visiting, especially in the summer.  Going to a Jays game was a dream come true for him.  To see a major league game close up and personal was beyond his wildest imaginings.

The Nat Bailey Stadium is gorgeous.  Most people wouldn’t describe a sports stadium this way. But to me it is. This was my first time, and like many firsts, it was memorable and I loved everything about it.  The pre-game excitement, the smell of popcorn and hotdogs, pizza and beer, cotton sundresses and pink cotton candy, fans in red tee-shirts and baseball caps, flip-flops flapping up and down concrete steps, hoots and hollers across the stands, the red wooden bleachers with perfect views of the field, the calls from the beer guy and the fifty-fifty girl, the playful fan photos taken with Bob Brown Bear, the cornball music, the repartee and easy banter of the announcers, the pre-game warm-ups, the national anthems, and the crack of wooden bat on leather ball.  Gorgeous.  Every last bit.

Before the game begins two national anthems are sung.  I don’t recall the name of the singer only that she gave a virtuoso performance.  Flawless. Resplendent. A crackerjack job. I love the American anthem.  It’s impressive and majestic.  But I’m a Canadian girl.  Through and through.  Tried and true.  Homegrown, born and raised.

From the very first note, when this crowd of devoted Vancouver Canadians fans stood shoulder to shoulder, hats in hand, young and old alike, and gloriously sang our national anthem, I was moved. Unexpectedly touched yet filled to the brim. With patriotism. With pride. With gratitude.

Oh Canada.  Dear sweet Canada.  My home and native land.  I am so grateful to be here.

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: I’m Down on my Knees Again.

Our daughter A training for The Ride to Conquer Cancer.

Our daughter A training for The Ride to Conquer Cancer.

I’ve been brought to my knees.  Countless times over the past year.  In fear. Humility. Frustration. Weakness. In sorrow. To pray. Beg. Plead. Implore.  Ask for mercy and forgiveness.  A bit of kindness.  A dose of compassion.

When I can’t stand this any more, I don’t.  I go down.

I’ve arrived at this place through brokenness and love.  Not just for E.  But for our family and friends.  All that I hold dear and want to preserve.  Ultimately it has been this love that has inspired me to fold. Cave. Crumple. Collapse. Yes, you read that correctly.  Inspired.  For I will do anything for love.  Even that.

Ironically, it is on my knees that I find the relief that I seek so desperately.  Here I am free to surrender all. Rest. Find peace. An illusive whisper these days.

It’s a peculiar thing this Cancer journey.  My heart breaks for E. For us. And all the other Big C pilgrims who know this road all too well.

I am down on my knees today. Not for E and me this time. I’m here because of a recent story in the news. A tragedy beyond words.

Last Sunday, while participating in The Ride To Conquer Cancer a young boy, barely sixteen, and by all accounts the sweetest, died.  A family’s worst nightmare.  A mother’s heart shattered.  A sunny day gone dark.

A young boy and his family doing something so good for a noble and worthwhile cause. I can relate. Three years ago our oldest daughter embarked on this extraordinary ride, for the same reason.  Just like this boy, she was on a sacred mission to do her part, to help the cause. To do something charitable for others she did not know. Altruism at its best.  I admired her courage and strength.  Her loving and caring heart.  Her passionate desire to help.  At the time, cancer had not yet crept into our lives.  It was something that happened to others.  Not us.  Not this close.  Nor this personal.

Just like this tragedy last Sunday morning, bad things happen.  Often to good people. It doesn’t make sense. Maybe it’s not meant to. I can understand this mother’s pain. Profoundly. My heart aches for her, and with her.  This is the inconsolable loss. It’s unimaginable. Inconceivable. Incomprehensible.

Yet not.

The very moment I knew I was pregnant, my imagination flooded with all the possibilities.  I not only pictured all the good and wonderful things that this child would do and enjoy. A life of dreams fulfilled. Adventures embarked.  Accomplishments achieved. But my heart, so loving and tender for this newborn child, also saw the fragility, the tenuous and gossamer nature of humanity.  The randomness with which things happened.  Both good and bad.  This heedless Russian Roulette vulnerability to our earth walk frightened me.  We’re all susceptible.  No matter what.

Ultimately, all we want as parents is for our children to be safe and to joyously experience the cycle of life as it should be.  Say farewell to us.  Not the other way around.

http://donate.bccancerfoundation.com/site/TR?pg=fund&fr_id=1340&pxfid=14708

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter. Mad as Hell.

Scary FaceThis post comes with a WARNING.  What you’re about to read may make you uncomfortable.  Or mad.

I’m mad.  Mad as hell.  What do I do with all this seething anger?  I could hold it in.  Suppress it like an unpleasant sneeze.  I could let it fester, bubble and boil for the rest of my life. Or I could just dump it here.

Sometimes, not all the time, but sometimes this Big C walk with E is way more than I signed up for.  I want to be the Good Wife.  The benevolent devoted soul mate.  I do.  But I’m not.  Don’t get me wrong, I am kind, compassionate and caring.  But there are times when the fire breathing dragon and the monster under the bed emerge.

What am I angry about?  That’s the thing.  I don’t even know half the time.  Everything and anything.

Am I surprised by the anger?  Absolutely.  I didn’t expect this.

It hasn’t simply been a steady build. Or slow burn. A crescendo ending with a crashing forte of rage.  Random acts of anger.  Unexpected outbursts.  Irrational displays of irritability.  Non-stop wrath or fury.  Annoyance or aggravation.  It has been all of these things. Thankfully not all at the same time.  But there are days where I simply move from one crappy angry emotion to the other.

Quite frankly, I can’t pinpoint what has my dander up and caused my blood to boil.  Why I see red.  And often black.

Some of the things I’m angry about make perfect sense.  At least to me.  Like the slowness of the medical process.  A year ago, at his annual check-up, E mentioned this irritation he had in his mouth.  Possibly it was a canker sore or a benign lesion.  Or possibly it was something bigger.  More sinister.  Who knew.  Certainly not us.  We’re not the experts.  This initial ‘mention’ to the doctor was followed by several trips to the neighborhood walk-in clinic where E was given cream to rub on the sore.  Months would pass before a biopsy was performed and a diagnosis given.  That was just the beginning.  More months would pass before his surgery.  A year later and the road ahead is long.  And winding.  Exhausting.  Draped in weary.  I’m angry about this.

Then there are the list of irrational things.  These cover the gambit, the full spectrum of the rainbow, the various degrees and levels of my anger.  Everything from the petty and trivial to the foolish and inconsequential.  The paltry, piddling and pettifogging.  All those shabby emotions that once expressed, or even thought, leave me feeling small, spiteful, mean, and just downright unkind.

Everything bugs me. Going right back to the early days. Until this present moment.

The botched biopsy.  Inconceivable. The breathtaking beauty of the Oncologist. Distracting. The daily crosstown trips to the hospital. Tedious.  The smell on the seventh floor.  Sickening. E’s feeding tube dangling from his nose.  Disgusting. The color blue of his hospital regulation issued PJs. Unfashionable. The ear-to-ear scar on E’s neck.  Frightening.  The size of his tongue.  Unfathomable. The disruption to our daily lives.  Unwanted.  The long lonely nights where sleep was a stranger.  Disturbing.  The lousy meals, fast food and frozen dinners.  Repulsive. The sound of the blender.  Irritating. The clutter, mess, dust and dog fur in E’s man cave.  Infuriating. The smell of soup in the microwave. Revolting. The way E speaks.  Incomprehensible.  The flowers and plants that need planting.  Frustrating. Taking out the garbage and doing the recycling. Enraging. Doing chores that E used to do. Exasperating. Being nice.  Impossible.

How could I think, feel, say such nasty things?  I don’t know.

I wish I could be more like Mother Theresa. All saintly and good.  But I’m not.  I’m Helen Keller before Anne Sullivan came into her life.  Groping in the dark. Punching the air. Kicking and screaming at anything unfortunate enough to cross my path. I stumble carelessly into the abyss.  I hiss and curse unapologetically. I breathe fire.  Rant and rave like a freaking lunatic.

I do all that. Then I have the audacity to shed my skin like a snake.

And start anew.

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: Tick Tock.

The clock on the wall keeps ticking.

The clock on the wall keeps ticking.

Start. Stop. Slow down. Speed up. Wait. Proceed with caution. The traffic signs of the Big C trip. We’re forced to walk when all we really want to do is run.  For our lives.  Things take time.  There’s a process.  Procedures to follow.  We get it.  But we’re also scared out of our minds.  The Big C clock is ticking.  And we don’t know if we’re running out of time.  The meticulous orderly pace is excruciating.  Never fast enough.  At least not for me.

When we returned from our weekend getaway, things moved swiftly at first.  We arrived home late Monday night and by Wednesday afternoon we had the results of the PET scan.  The cancer was localized.  Just below the tongue. Our greatest fears, that E was riddled with cancer from head to toe, were banished.  We were grateful and did the happy dance. High fives all around.  Big sighs of relief could be felt from coast to coast.

Three weeks later E met with the Surgeon, who examined his mouth and discussed his role in the upcoming surgery.  Because this would be a 2-surgeon job, eight days later E met with the Plastic Surgeon.  At this point, it was exactly one month since receiving the results of the PET scan.  To a cancer patient and his family this is an eternity.  With each passing day I grew more anxious.  My mind went to its dark place, that cavernous dwelling filled with irrational horrors.  All the ‘what ifs’ were examined. I snooped under every rock and coaxed all the scary monsters out.  My thoughts Teased and taunted. It was crazy-making at its finest.

I think E was scared too.  In between surgeon appointments he was baptized.  This was something he had been contemplating for a few years but he became obsessed with the notion after the diagnosis.  He wanted to come right with God.  Get things sorted out between the two of them. The surgeons could heal his body but only God could repair his brokeness. This would be his first step towards spiritual healing.  Truth is, it was more of a first dunk then a step.  I can only describe it as a full backwards drop into the watery depths, John the Baptist style. E emerged gasping for air.  Regenerated.  Renewed.  Reborn.

The triad of Divine Es – elation, euphoria and exaltation – wouldn’t last long.

The meeting with the Plastic Surgeon brought E to his knees.  Shaken.  Shattered.  Scared out of his wits.  Later that evening, he described the procedure.  He shuttered and shook his head as relayed the gruesome details.  I thought I was going to throw up.  The surgery wasn’t going to be pretty.  Lot’s of cutting skin and veins here, and moving them there, and then there, and there.  Visions of Roger Ebert danced through my head. Enough said.

The day after the meeting with the Plastic Surgeon, E’s Mama died.  He got the news at 7:00pm on the Thursday and was on a plane to Nova Scotia the next morning at 8:00. He spent a week with his family and friends, buried his mother and was back on the Westcoast by Good Friday.  The next evening his band performed at a Bluegrass Fundraising event.

It was the last time he would sing.

E’s surgery was booked for May 6, which seemed like light years away. Everything was moving in slow motion.  To us, the medical world was dragging its collective feet. Our anxiety eclipsed their tempo.  We felt like lab rats scurrying through a maze of white coats and mysterious technology. Humming machines.  Little cogs caught in the big wheel.  Dancing on peanut butter.  Plenty of action but really going nowhere.

E was diagnosed the first week of December, met with the Radiation Oncologist the end of January, had the PET scan in the middle of February, met with Surgeons in the middle of March and would have the operation on May 6.  When someone you love gets the Big C diagnosis you just want the “evil” extricated from their body.  We all wanted it out.  Like Lady Macbeth, I cried, “Out, damned spot.  Out. I say!”

Yes, I’ll admit, a bit dramatic.  But still.

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: Alphabet Soup of Emotions.

40456_420805066265_3600090_nI feel so many things. I’m a mixed bag of sentiments since this cancer thing with E began.  Maybe like Lady Gaga, I was born this way.  And E’s illness has just magnified, and brought to the surface, this alphabet soup of emotions.  I’m all over the place.

Soaring with the angels one minute and groveling in the mud with the devil the next. Optimistic star gazer.  Down in the dumps. Trashy and foul-mouthed.  Elated and deflated. Giddy from good news.  Depressed by delays and dark days.  Happy as a clam before it’s tossed in the chowder.  And overwhelmed by inconsolable grief.  Frightened out of my skin.  Fierce as a mother lion. A Warrior Girl.  And a motherless child. Whimpering and whining.  Feeling abandoned and sorry for myself.  Mad as hell. Patient as a saint.

I am all these things. I feel it all. Every stinking last one.  Every glorious sensation.

And I do not apologize.

These feelings are all part of this very human fragile, and yet magnificent, journey that I am on.  I own it all.  The messy and the sublime alike.  From A to Z.

A = alone + abandoned + angry + afraid + appreciated + alive
B = bad + brave + bored + bold + bitter + bitchy + beautiful
C = courageous + crappy + caring + crazy + confused + cheerful
D = depressed + deflated + despondent + despairing + determined
E = elated + excused + evolved + enervated + exhausted + energized
F = forgotten + fatigued + failure + fucked + frazzled + funny + feisty
G = good + grateful + gritty + gone + giving + giddy + glum + gutsy
H = hungry + happy + harried + here + hopeless + helpful + heroic
I = impossible + indifferent + irate + indignant + invisible + incapable
J = justified + jittery + juggler + juvenile + jackass + jealous + joyful
K = kind + keeper + knowing + knotty + kooky + kickass
L = lonely + lost + loser + loved + large + leaving + last + loving
M = messy + monstrous + meek + moved + mad + magnificent
N = nothing + nasty + numb + nowhere + neglected + nice
O = open + outcast + off + old + offensive + overloaded + optimistic
P = painful + picky + pretty + pathetic + pessimistic + patient +  plucky
Q = quiet + quitting + quarrelsome + queer + quirky
R = reasonable + raw + ready + revolted + rejected + redeemed
S = sad + silly + shitty + small + sorry + self-righteous + strong
T = terrible + tiny + tearful + tenuous + tight + tragic + tired + tough
U = unsettled + upset + unloved + unnoticed + used + ugly + up
V = vulnerable + vacant + vague + vain + victorious + valued
W = worried + weak + wanting + wonderful + weepy + warrior
X = x-rayed + xeroxxed + x-rated
Y = yearning + yucky + yappy + yeller + yellow + yummy
Z = zombie + zapped + zilch + zero + zip

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: Waiting Rooms.

Some days I feel dark.I have become intimate with waiting rooms over the past few months.  But none have gotten under my skin so deeply as the one at the Cancer Agency where E had the PET scan.

It was a small crowded room packed with patients waiting to be tested and their respective support groups.  And me, the consummate Groupie.  We got there early so there was ample time for E to fill out the intake form and for me to get restless and bored.  The chairs were stiff and awkwardly close.  The lights were unbearably bright.  Mocking and cruel. The air was weary. This was not a place to linger nor languish.  Here, you waited, got it over with and then got the hell out.

We waited.  And waited.  Waited some more.  At one point, I fell asleep and may have snored, ever so slightly.  E gave me a little love nudge.  I bolted upright and looked around, momentarily confused by my surroundings.  Oh yes, we’re still here I thought.

E’s name was called precisely at the appointed hour.  I gave him a quick peck on the lips, squeezed his hand and watched as he followed the nurse through the heavy metal double doors.  What lay beyond was all a big mystery to me.  I wanted to keep it that way.  Others had gone before him and they all came back okay.  So would he.

I settled in for the 2-hour wait.

I managed to read a few pages from The Color of Water before succumbing to the call of slumber.  My eyelids fluttered and slowly closed.  My head sagged heavily onto my chest like a two hundred pound pumpkin.  Not a pretty sight.  In the end, it was the drool trickling from the corner of my mouth that brought me back to wakefulness.  I wiped my chin with the back of my gloved hand, closed the book and slipped it into the side pocket of my purse.

Then I did what I do best.  Observe.  Witness.  Listen.

There was a painfully thin older woman in her seventies surrounded by her family, who were helping her fill out the daunting intake form.  Her son patiently went through the form question by question. Sometimes answering for her.  And like E and I, sometimes guessing at questions with possible multiple answers or ones that simply didn’t make sense. Close enough was good enough.

There was the young man waiting for his beautiful wife.  She was one who had gone through the double doors before E. When she emerged, he jumped up and was immediately at her side.  “Ah, my beautiful wife,” he declared as he kissed her cheek and took her hand. They sat in the hallway together for a moment, holding hands.  Then he returned to the admitting desk with questions about the “reports to the doctor.”  “Would they get copies as well?” he asked.  Once assured that all was in order, they left. He, with his arm around her waist, and she, with her head snuggled into the sweet spot in his neck.  It took my breath away.

There was the athletic looking woman with the grey hair and backpack slung over here shoulder.  She stood next to the wall with her equally fit friend and made arrangements to meet up afterwards.  There was the heavyset woman who sat quietly knitting.  The middle-aged man in the leather bomber jacket and faded jeans reading the paper.  The teenage boy with the headphones and rapper-style hip-hop jeans, who paced the hallway in step to the music he was listening to.  The young happy bubbly girl barely into her teens, who greeted her anxious parents with a big smile and a reassuring, “It wasn’t that bad.”

And there were others too who came and went during my wait that dreary afternoon in the middle of February.  All there for the same reason.

As I write this, my eyes well with tears at the memory.

The Big C is an equal opportunity invader.  It strikes randomly and carelessly.  Unapologetic and audaciously so.  Old women confused by the questions on forms.  Girlfriends with backpacks and sensible walking shoes.  Beautiful young wives with handsome thoughtful husbands.  People killing time by reading newspapers and books.  Knitters of scarves and baby blankets.  Middle-aged men in denim and leather.  Young teenagers, whose walk on this earth too new to leave footprints.  And yes, even bluegrass musicians who play the upright bass with passion and heart.

The rich.  The poor.  And everything in between.  The happy and optimistic.  The pessimist and naysayer.  The sad and lonely.  The newborn and the ancient one.  There are no precise demographics. No one can pinpoint the target audience.  By touching us all in some way, the whole thing seems so common. Perhaps that’s the divine irony.  There are no favorites here.

The thing that struck me the most while I was waiting.  Hit me in the gut so deeply and profoundly. It was what all these people had in common that I did not possess.

Bravery.

Take that Big C and shove it where the sun don’t shine.