Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: Blindness Blindness.

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I’m a visual person and so grateful for the gift of sight. Something happened recently that served as an exquisite reminder of what a wonder it is to be able to see. I mean really see the world around us. From the miniscule to the monumental. From the fine grains of sand beneath our feet to the infinite stars that dust the midnight sky above our heads. And every extraordinary remarkable astonishing breathtaking thing in between.

What was the catalyst for this reawakening?

Recently, my Big Sis (aka BS) had a cataract removed from her right eye, the worst of the two afflicted by the disease. Her ability to see had grown increasingly dire over the past several years. Both close-up, and from afar, things were cloudy with a slight chance of rain.

Needless to say, our family was delighted, and quite frankly, relieved when the first cataract was removed. She was halfway to having her vision fully restored. Her eyes had been revised and she was given a shot at second sight.

Despite the challenges of our relationship, I love BS dearly and couldn’t wait for her to see things. But what I quickly realized was that her vision might have been restored but her ability to see had not. Her eyes were functioning physically but she could not see.

At a family dinner a few days after the surgery, she gushed exuberantly about all the things she could now see so well, the unbelievable things that her cataracts had kept hidden from her these past few years. It was such a marvel, a revelation beyond revelations.

The list was endless and exhausting. Dust on furniture, dirt in corners, scratches on vehicles, wrinkles on faces, blemishes on skin, grey in hair, cracks in walls, nicks on floors. On and on it went.

At first I found it rather humorous. But humor quickly changed to dismay, as this list appeared to be growing with each day that her vision improved.

And right now, as I write this, I just feel sad.

We live in such a lavish and graciously abundant universe. There is so much to see. So much awe-inspiring wonderment surrounds us. Although this particular wake-up call and reminder from BS, whose focus these past few weeks has been off-kilter and categorically on all the wrong things, was disturbing I cannot point the finger at her without pointing three back at myself.

In searching the darkest crevices of my heart, I know I’m just as bad. We’re one and the same, and not because we share DNA. We both lose sight of the big picture sometimes, and that has nothing to do with being sisters.

Far too often I have indulged in focusing on the flaws, the imperfections, the defects and deficiencies. I’ve been on faultfinding missions of epic proportions. I’ve only seen the lack and scarcity. Not enough. Half empty. I’ve squandered my vision carelessly. Recklessly. Audaciously.

And worse yet, I’ve taken it for granted.

I’ve chosen that impaired perspective over seeing the bounty and the plenty. The cornucopia. The beautiful. The splendor. The kind.

And most importantly, the good.

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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.

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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. What Were You Thinking?

E before he quit smoking.

E before he quit smoking.

I’m not a mind reader.  I don’t have X-ray vision. No telepathic abilities that I’m aware of.  I’m definitely not a clairvoyant and the last time I checked I don’t have ESP.   But on occasion I do have an acute sixth sense.  Like Spider Man.  Sometimes I just know something’s up.

Such was the case the night we went to visit a gravely ill friend at the hospital.

After two decades together I thought E and I shared everything.  Our thoughts.  Feelings.  Fears.  But I learned that with this cancer thing, that wasn’t true.  Fact is, no one really knows for sure what’s going on inside another person’s head.  Nor do we know the things kept tucked away in timorous hearts.  Our interior worlds are ours alone. We share what we share.  Give what we give. Reveal only what’s comfortable or safe.  We’re transparent at times.  But more often than not, opaque.  The proverbial window into a person’s soul is often dirty.  Foggy.  Obscured. Dark and scary.

We rode up the hospital elevator to the seventh floor in easy silence. Each in our own private world. Elevators have this affect on us. I watched attentively as the red digital numbers over the doors changed.  Floor by floor.  Thankfully no one else joined us on our ride upward. I wasn’t in the mood for company. A fleeting thought of our sick friend crossed my mind.  Followed by an unsettling twitch of anxiety in the pit of my stomach.  I took a gulp of air and let it out with flapping lips.  I sounded like a horse snorting.

Just before the doors swung open, I glanced over at E.  There was something about his expression that concerned me. Did it bother him to be back in a hospital?  Was he looking down the road to the day he’d have to return?  Was he afraid?

The doors opened.  We stepped out into the bright glaring lights of the corridor.  A startling contrast from the dimly lit elevator car with its hypnotic hum.  The steel box that confined and contained our emotions.

Boom.  Reality hit.  Raw.  Intense.  Chilly.  I couldn’t hold it in anymore.

“How do you feel?” I blurted out.

“I’m fine,” he auto-responded.

“No, how do you really feel?” I persisted.

“I’m tired,” he exhaled fully, releasing weeks of held emotions.  “And depressed.  I don’t know if I’m tired because I’m depressed.  Or depressed because I’m so tired.”

“I understand,” I said.

Finally some truth.  A place to start.

For the first time in a month, E fully understood that he wasn’t alone.  He had me.  No matter what.  Although the cancer was inside his body, the journey was ours.  We were in this together.  The good.  The bad.  And the ugly.  We were a shameless spaghetti western.  Clint Eastwood, this movie belonged to us.

The next day I sat down at my computer and wrote this poem.

The Truth About This Thing Called Cancer

Yesterday when we got off the elevator at the 7th floor

And we were heading towards room 721

To visit our friend who was back in the hospital

Having a blood transfusion

In preparation for surgery the next day

His third in nine months.
His body was covered in scars

From years of cuts and mends

Repairs and retribution

A missing foot

An ulcer on the other

Now in peril.
But this isn’t about him.
I asked you how you were feeling

Really feeling

No fake bullshit

No more keeping secrets.

 

I’m a big girl

I can hear the word cancer

The Big C

Without wanting to dive

Into the river of terror.
I’m your love

And you are mine

We’ll do this together.
So you confessed.
You said that even though

You laugh and joke

Put on your happy face

There are times that you feel tired

And depressed.
You sleep

Because you are tired

Which makes you depressed

So you sleep

To make the depression

Go away.

 

You can’t tell

The cause

From the effect.
I told you that I understood.
But the truth is

I only understand

Half of the equation.

 

I don’t know cancer

But I know depression

And the desire to sleep it away.
I know love

And the power it wields

The healing it contains

For both of us
I told you right from the start

That all I ever wanted

Was for you to

Tell me the truth.
And that goes for this thing too.