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. 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: 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.

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: Take Two. Let’s Try This Again.

E and his band mate A wait to go on stage.

E and his band mate A wait to go on stage.

Sometimes I just want to start over. Tear out the page. Crumple it up.  Toss it into the nearest garbage can. Press delete. Delete. Delete. Begin again. Change everything. Rewrite the story.

Never have I wanted to do this more than with this story about E.

After the holidays, we settled back into our old familiar routine.  The one we enjoyed before the thunderclap of cancer struck. It was as if all that crazy-making stuff never happened.  Monday to Friday focused around our work.  Weekends were filled with errands, chores, family meals, music and church.  Smack dab in the middle of January we celebrated E’s birthday with joy and profound gratitude.  After the roller coaster ride of December this mundane life of ours felt good.  Humdrum was welcome.  The unremarkable everydayness had lulled us into believing that things were back to normal.  It was life as usual.

Not so.

Truth was, E’s appointment with the Radiation Oncologist was scheduled for the end of January.  There was no denying, nor getting around that.  This was “the meeting” where we would get the lowdown on this scary disease that had invaded E’s body.  The results of the CatScan and the biopsy would be explained to us.  This was where rubber would hit the road.

The Cancer Agency sent E a package of information to prepare him for this meeting.  He filled out the forms, read the brochures, watched the DVDs and composed a list of questions.  I borrowed a snazzy digital recorder from one of my colleagues to tape the session.  We were prepared.  At least so we thought.

I met E at the Cancer Centre on the afternoon of his appointment.  It was a mad rush from work to the Centre with five minutes to spare. I flopped down in the seat next to him expecting a long wait.  My plan was to scarf down a sandwich before meeting with the Oncologist.  Two bites into my cheese and lettuce and we were called.  I quickly stuffed the sandwich back into my bag and followed E and the intake nurse into “the room.”

We exchanged pleasantries with the nurse while she took E’s temperature and checked his blood pressure.  A few minutes later the Oncologist appeared.  It was one of those jaw dropping moments.  She was nothing like what I was expecting.  I was thinking someone more like Einstein or the original Dr. Who.  Someone who looked like they could cure cancer.  Not pose for the cover of Vogue.  She was drop-dead gorgeous.  Tall, slim, perfect skin and hair.  Beautiful smile.  Stylishly dressed from head to toe.  And by toe, I mean kick-ass high black leather boots.  She was lovely in every way and immediately put E and I at ease.

I switched on the recorder.  She began with a round of standard questions to determine E’s overall health.  What other things besides the mess in his mouth were causing him grief.  E rhymed off the litany of ailments that had been hurting, aching, paining, irritating and gnawing at him over the past two years.  It reminded me of the Skeleton Song we all sang when we were kids.  With the toe bone connected to the foot bone.  Was there anything that didn’t hurt I wondered?

After the inquisition, the Oncologist probed and prodded his neck and throat checking for lumps and bumps.  Looking for signs.  Was the cancer on the move?  Spreading like wildfire to the rest of his body or behaving itself and staying contained in the front of his mouth?

Modern medicine is full of wonders to behold.  Technological marvels that are mind-blowing.  Like the probe that allowed us to see inside E’s nose and throat.  More like science fiction than science seeing this strange interior world so close-up and personal.  Beyond the uvula. It reminded me of the Biblical story of Jonah and the whale.

After the examination the doctor discussed “the next steps.”  This took both of us by surprise. We thought we’d be leaving with a surgery date and a pep talk on how this would soon be behind us.  A little inconsequential blip in our lives that would be over with a quick snip and a stitch.  Not next steps.

E wearing one of his favorite Hawaiian shirts.

E wearing one of his favorite Hawaiian shirts.

What we quickly learned was that the results from the CatScan and biopsy weren’t one hundred percent definitive.  Inconclusive.  They didn’t know the full extent of the disease. Whether it had spread to other parts of his body.  So this uncertainty meant more testing.  Big Kahuna examinations.  MRI and PET Scan.

The drive across town to home was dismal.  Again I was alone in the truck.  A Gloomy Gus.  Consumed with worst case scenarios.  The wind had just been kicked out of our sails.  We had just spent the month believing that things were going to be okay.  E was back to normal.  He was feeling great.  Healthier than he had in a long time.  This wasn’t such a big deal, we thought.  Certainly not deadly.  Nothing to worry about.  A piece of cake.  Walk in the park.

For two smart people, we were seriously naive when it came to the Big C.

Back at the house, E and I spoke briefly about the appointment.  I asked him how he thought it went.

“Not good,” he said.

Then I knew we were in big trouble.