Being Thankful, One Week Later…

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INT. –  DINING ROOM – NIGHT

 

A dining room is set for Thanksgiving. Music playing softly in the background.

 

BRENDON, BLAYRE, BARBRA & In laws nervously & silently enter room.

 

BARBRA moans softly & clutches her stomach as BRENDON walks her to her seat. Neither sit.

 

BLAYRE stands at the head of the table.  She smiles widely and EXCLAIMS she is saying the prayer.

 

BLAYRE

(excitedly)

Everyone grab hands!

Everyone nervously laughs, as they grasp hands.

Everyone stands in a circle heads bowed.

BLAYRE

(reverently)

Lord, make us well and thankful for our food. I am thankful that mommy made it to the table.  I am thankful for my family.

(Blayre looks up)

BLAYRE (CONT’D)

Mommy, your turn!

BARBRA

(slightly raises head and slowly begins to speak)

Umm. Lets see. I am thankful this year for…umm…ZOPHRAN!

BRENDON, BARBRA & BLAYRE start to laugh, as the In Laws look up, confused. This causes BRENDON & BARBRA to LAUGH HARDER

BRENDON

(still laughing)

You are so silly, girl!

BARBRA

Hey, it’s true.  Thankful, really, thankful!

Realizing that his parents are still looking confused, BRENDON turns to address them. BLAYRE hugs her mom.

BRENDON

(still slightly chuckling)

Zophran is Barb’s nausea medicine.  It costs $40 a pill, but is the only thing that can control her nausea.  So, yes! Yes, we are all very thankful for Zophran!

The room breaks into laughter.

 

That was the scene at Thanksgiving dinner!  There could have been a long list of thankful things we could have gone on about! Honestly, I didn’t even think I would make it to the dining room table. For a month, all I heard was that the week of Thanksgiving was going to be horrible b/c it was the 4th treatment of the Red Devil.  “Be prepared not to be able to move”, said my Cancer Mentor.  “You probably won’t be able to stand the sight or smell of anyone, let alone food,” said the NP.  Really?  Thanks for the heads up.  But by Thursday, my nausea was starting to subside.  That was due to my…ZOPHRAN!  So I had to give proper thanks!  Now, turns out, Friday I was sick beyond compare!  I thought I could go without by Thursday night. WRONG MOVE!  I was quickly back to begging for Zophran by midday Friday.  As an example of how “good” this $40 pill is, I asked my sister to peddle Zophran from her Emergency Medicine husband!  It was certainly an emergency!  But alas, Hippocratic oath not withstanding, he said that if he could hustle Zophran, we would all be rich!  Turns out, that Zophran is not a drug pharmaceutical reps “leave behind”!  Who knew?

But as I look back at the Holiday a week later, I realize what I am thankful for is a family with a sense of humor.

At Thanksgiving dinner, once we all settled down to eat, we talked about random things, as families do.  I was reflecting on how I haven’t been “grounded” (not traveled) for longer than 3 months in over 15 years.  Yes, I travel a lot.  So as you can imagine I am counting down my days until I can get on a plane, hit the highway, or catch a train…to the INKWELL or some other locale.  My daughter even chimed in about how she wished we could do our annual mother/daughter spring break.  Given that I will be done chemo, and may not have surgery by then, I threw out there  “maybe we will”.  My husband almost choked on his food.  His turn to say “Really?  I mean, really??  You are not going anywhere! You don’t know what will be going on.”  Why did I even go down that route?  I was like  “Are you kidding me?  I got this! I deserve a spring break!” laughing.  Not to be outdone, he put down his fork, turned to me and said, “You can’t go on spring break! You have breast cancer”, in his most ironic voice.  You could hear a pin drop as his parents paused and looked at us.  But to their surprise, we burst out laughing!  To the 2 of us, it was the 2nd funniest comment of the night.  (next to Zophran…of course)  It has been the running joke the last few days. Breast Cancer is only going to slow me down, but so much!

Saturday, after I recovered…and was firmly back on Zophran, Blayre asked if we could play with Sheniqua.  Sheniqua is my wig head.  Blayre wanted to “play with my hair”.  When I had longer hair, and sometimes even when it was short, Blayre would spend time playing with my hair.  She loved it, and it relaxed me.  Knowing she missed that, I said “sure”.  For the next hour, I wore Sheniqua while Blayre did “my hair” in various styles.  Oddly, it was still relaxing.  Blayre had a ball, and we cracked each other up with each new hairstyle.  Soon we were texting pictures to my 2 tight girls in Chicago.  By all accounts, the “best hairstyle” was “the Snooki”.  And yes.  I do recognize that it is very scary that all the kids knew “the Snooki”, while NONE of them have ever seen an episode of Jersey Shore.  But it was an important bonding time b/t me and my daughter, and also my girls in Chicago.

Finally, Sunday, I got a call from a member of one of my many “groups”.  She was calling to chastise me for not buying a vendor’s table at an upcoming event. I let her go say her peace. She was clearly on a mission.  Then I said, “Sally Sue, (name changed to protect the nutty) I don’t know if you have heard, though it was announced at Chapter.  But I was diagnosed with breast cancer this month, so I am sorry, but it wasn’t a priority.”  Silence.  More Silence.  Stutter.   “Oh, I didn’t know…”  I don’t really know what else she said b/c in the other room my family burst into hysterics at how I dropped the bomb.  Now I am sure she was mortified and appropriately horrified at her earlier tone.  Once I got off the phone, we all cracked up. Sometimes, others have to get over themselves. But more important, I have to laugh at these moments.  It may not be your type of humor, but it helps me deal with Life in the Cancer Lane.

So I am thankful, a week later, for smiles, laughter, jokes…and ZOPHRAN!

Watermelon friends – Big Girl Panties II

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This is really a funny title because my girl doesn’t even like watermelon, but I love it. Did you ever put salt on your watermelon when you were a kid? To me, the saltiness was the perfect balance for the sweetness of the melon, and together they made me feel like I was filling up on sunshine. My friends, whose sweet, gentle humor helps me chuckle my way through the saltiness of my tears are the ones I need most in the midst of crisis. Here’s just one example. . .

This wacky, crazy, oh so necessary sister-friendship that gave birth to this blog takes place across one at least one “important divide” that is most certainly trivial in light of everything else. You see, the two of us belong, respectively, to each of the two largest public service organizations comprised primarily of college educated african-american women. For most of this 20+ years of friendship, we have teased each other at every turn about the desirability of each organization (both are full of phenomenal women who have made significant contributions) and always tease about the colors associated with each organization (pink and green for her, and red and white for me). We even have our daughters in on it — brainwashed from birth. Silly I know, but it makes us laugh, and sometimes you just need a little comic relief. Believe it or not, it’s how I got her baby to stop crying when she called me disappointed that she couldn’t go in (as promised) to see her mom’s treatment because of a rigid hospital policy. (See “Big Girl Panties I” post).  I knew that the two of them had planned to wear matching feather earrings, and I asked her about the colors.   Of course, she said “pink and green.”    I reached for my funny bone even as my heart was breaking as I listened through the tears to her telling me that she wished I were there.  I told her that I loved her and that if I could, I would get on a plane that minute, but I couldn’t possibly come if she were wearing those colors!  She laughed out loud, and was magically ready to go on and face the world in her big girl panties — albeit pink!  At that moment, I was ever so grateful that we had this silly, wonderful, gentle teasing about something so mundane — sorority rivalry for God sakes — that we could resort to at this very tough moment. Oh, the power of a little humor!

Both of us are criers, but we have always managed to find a way to laugh through our tears in everything that we’ve faced – our pregnancies, life with our husbands, our career mishaps and startling successes, being more like our mothers than we usually care to admit, my son’s diagnosis and life with Asperger’s, our parents’, our husbands’, our children’s and now, our own, health challenges. Our favorite text shorthand is “Lol” and we use it almost every day.

Last week, we chatted through “Lol’s” about how useless the pity party conversations are to us. (We’ve both have had more than our share throughout this journey and others.) You know what I’m talking about – well meaning people who listen and answer every pause with an “awwwww….” or a sad, mournful look in an effort to commiserate. Really useless. What to do with people who call to make you feel better, and who you end up comforting? Not ok. Worse yet, the folks who ignore your challenges or tell you to just “buck up.” I’m not sure about you, but it’s the friends who make you laugh through your tears, who share with you that something really sucks without the pity, and who just listen and allow you to tell them how you feel, that you really desperately need to hear from when you’re going through a hard time. I’m thankful to have this kind of friend — it’s my very best Christmas gift every day, and it’s my wish for all of our readers this holiday season. Cheers!

Big Girl Panties part I

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Through this process I have tried my best to stay in fashion.  No walking around in sweats, hole-y jeans (while comfortable), or sneaks. Definitely wearing more make up than I did before.  This past weekend was no different save for a few modifications.

Friday, I helped give a talk on the importance of Heart Health. Ironic huh?  In walks the bald lady, and the main speaker starts the speech about how most people think breast cancer is the #1 killer of women. (as I point to my head)  Well, it is actually heart disease.  Great activity. I looked good in my DVF wrap dress and matching thong/bra combo.

Later that day I showed up to Mayo for my regular pre chemo appt, to check my vitals. First thing my nurse asks is why I am so dressed. Umm.  Because I can. Even if I don’t have hair, I can still make an effort.  So all looked good until she said “ooh you need a blood transfusion…NOW”.  What!!?? “Excuse me?” I ask.  “Yes” she says.  “See, you are low on hemoglobin, and need it NOW or tomorrow”.  I started to sweat, and that thong seemed to disappear.  This was the 1 appt my husband was not with me.  So as the NP, or as we call her the “not physician” started to run down all the potential side affects that could happen b/c I was going through chemo, I just yelled “STOP” “I can tell you I am not doing this without my husband talking to the Doctor!”  Perplexed, the NP said that probably wasn’t going to happen.  My response. “Well I will wait”.  Needless to say, my husband had the required convo later that day.

Saturday at 7:30am, 12 hours later, I am in big girl panties and SWEATS, scared to death getting 3 liters of blood.  Every 20 minutes someone is checking to see if I haven’t gone into shock, have a fever, a rash etc. Obviously I made it through by sucking it up, putting on those big girl panties, and an eye mask.

Flash forward to Sunday morning. I get a call that one of my dear Cancer Mentors won’t be able to attend the support group we put together. (Coalition of Blacks against Breast Cancer. Check out cbbcaz.org) While there would be another person there to lead the organizational development side of the meeting, it would be up to me to lead the SURVIVORS in discussion.  My 1st response is to text my sis.  DOES ANYONE SEE THE IRONY IN THIS?  Her immediate reaction was don’t do it.  But a few seconds later she wrote for me to dig out the big girl panties again, and do it.  Understand that while the group probably knew I had BC, I never discussed it during the sharing section!  I was there to represent the Coalition leadership and also Susan G. Komen!  Panicked, I made my way to the meeting. It actually went very well.  I spoke a little about myself, but the other women AND men, felt relieved to be able to ask me questions. I answered a few, and valiantly redirected convo to others and sweated my way through the rest of the meeting.  Later that night I got a couple calls of congrats.  Score another for big girl panties…

Yesterday was my 4th treatment out of 8!  I am half way through! This was the appt that my daughter would get to come see me.  We had cleared it with Docs and nurses alike on more than one occasion.  She was excited and looking forward to taking the fear out of it.  We even wore matching feather earrings.  Appt is at 8am. We arrive only for them to say…she can’t come in.  Hysterics all around.  I think even my husband had a tear in his eye.  On top of that, they didn’t have a room for us.  One nurse felt bad, and offered my baby…ICE CREAM!  Really?? Ice cream @ 8:30.  I completely lost it! My husband whisked her away to try and calm her down.  What did I do….text my sis!  She offered to talk to blayre in a few minutes when B returned.  But 1st, I gave my baby  her 1st “sometimes you have to wear big girl panties and get on with it” speech. Five minutes later she was on the phone with her auntie.  Whatever Auntie M said worked, and 10 minutes later she was laughing.  Two hours later we had still not started!!!  At this point I was breaking down.  But then the ice cream nurse came and told us she decided to break the rule b/c the sight of us crying broke her heart.  So at 10:30 my baby got to watch them administer my 1st 2 medicines.  Then she was whisked away.  But that made her day…and mine.

Last night before bed, MY baby told me: “MY BIG GIRL PANTIES ARE PINK!”

What color are yours?

We must. We must! We must increase our busts!

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“We must! We must! We must increase our bust!”  Aaah the perennial words of Judy Blume!  I am not afraid to admit I read those words and tried many days, to see if that exercise and mantra would actually work!  You see, I am a long time member (some would say founding member!) of the “Itty bitty titty committee” Like hair, breast size is unfortunately something that we are aware of at a young age.  I was no different from any of my friends!  I wanted some breasts!  My mom has always been a slender woman.  But by some twist of fate, she has a healthy bosom.  She says she “kept” her breasts from breast-feeding.

My journey has been quite different.  Like every teenager, I wanted bigger ones.  Not afraid to say I stuffed the occasional bra in high school.  Tip to the youngsters…and my daughter…NEVER works!!   By college I accepted that I had itty-bitty titties.  So, I stopped wearing bras regularly.  The freedom!  The lack of constriction!  I was free until a “big sister” so thoroughly embarrassed me while pledging (her job, I guess!) by making me put on a bra AND band-aids on my nipples.  But once I became a Soror, it was back to as many bra less days as I could manage. By then I was proud of my perky small breasts! Who needed the extra attention of big boobs!  As I got older, on odd occasion, I would look at my “sister’s” DDs on her size 4 body, and wonder how she got so lucky! But the thought of a boob job was just too painful.

My husband tells me I didn’t start wearing a bra regularly (excluding work) until I had my daughter!  Pregnancy and breast feeding was the ANSWER! Wonderful, full breasts! I was reminded this week that I strutted around all nine months of pregnancy in a bikini! Why yes I did! What better way to show off my new breasts…and, oh yeah, belly!  Maybe they would stick around like my mom’s did! Alas, they didn’t last.  In fact, they are smaller now then before.  What justice is that?  I tell myself they are still perky.  But in reality they just “are”. At least they don’t sag.

With life in the cancer lane, I thought the “up” side would be new boobs! Crazy, right?  But I figured, if I had to go through chemo, radiation etc the least I could ask for was bigger boobs! The 1st time we met with my oncologist, my husband and I joked, “bring on the new boobs”, and laughed! We were met by the icy silence of the 3 doctors in the room. Certainly we weren’t the 1st people to joke about getting new boobs? Who knew the docs wouldn’t share our sense of humor! Fast-forward 6 weeks when we met with the surgical team to discuss options.  Once again, we said, “bring on the new boobies”!  Again, we got NOTHING! You would think that Docs would want a little levity after hours upon hours of relaying to patients that what they associate with their femininity & sexuality is about to be altered forever!

Turns out, my doctors’ goal is to reduce my tumor enough so that I will need just a lumpectomy.  Definitely not a double mastectomy, and if the treatment works, probably not a mastectomy.  The result being…no bigger boobs!!  Are you kidding me!!??  After 3 months of chemo, radiation, and a year of my life altered forever, I don’t even get new tits?  I recognize that that may sound vain and trite to many.  But it’s one small way my mind had made lemonade out of very sour lemons. Bigger boobs.  To make matters more crazy, if I have a lumpectomy, they will have to create a boob from various parts of my…back!  Evidently what I call a “muffin top” is nowhere near enough to create a boob!  Who knew! I don’t have back fat either, so I am really worried about how THAT is going to work.

So as I sit through the next 6 weeks of chemo, and my tumor continues to shrink in size, I will no longer think of my potentially fabulous new breasts.  Instead, I will continue to be thankful I found my lump in time.  Maybe I will go back and read Judy Blume.

Side note, I haven’t talked this much about breasts since I was 14! In the breast cancer advocacy work I do, we simply say “breasts”.  But life in the cancer lane changed that! It feels weird to constantly use words to describe “the girls”! Tits! Titties! Boobs! Breasts!  Bosom!  Boobies!  Girlfriends! Busts!  Folks struggle when they ask me how I found my lump.  “Were you doing a..boob..um..exam”?  I have become real comfortable, real quick, and use them all.  If you know my husband, you know he delights in being able to say “titty” freely!

But I think Judy got it right…

We must! We must! We must increase our…

Are you there God, it’s me . . .

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Did you ever read the book, Are you there God, It’s me Margaret?  I know all of the girls in my 6th grade class read the classic coming of age book by Judy Blume, and snickered about all of the lines, especially “we must, we must, we must increase our bust . . .”  So funny to think about how desperate we were to have these breasts at one time in our life.   It’s unbelievable that as our little girls are starting to develop and to develop their own excitement about the buds, we would be having such a complicated relationship with the breasts we once prayed for, the breasts that nourished our children, and excited our husbands.

Having a scheduled mammogram, just a few weeks after my best girl was diagnosed with breast cancer made me think about whether these were really more trouble than their worth.   (Of course, my husband would beg to differ.) They just seem to be way too much trouble these days –  they just don’t quite sit where they used to, mine keep getting bigger (I’m a 36D) and then we have to submit ourselves to the annual torture that is a mammogram.   Is there another body part, not meant to be flat, that must submit to complete squishing on a yearly basis?  At my last mammo, once I thought my technician was finished she came back for two more views.   “There’s always something with these ladies” she said.   I sighed deeply again and walked slowly into the torture chamber.

My girl let me feel the lump.   I wanted to show her that I wasn’t scared of it – or of her.    It was real to me then, and felt hard (a good sign apparently) and felt like something that absolutely needed to be out of her.   Laying hands on it gave me a true object of my anger, but it was weird because I’m mad at something that is still housed in her.   I prayed like never before, and still pray, for it to be out of her body.  Like the diagnosis and the life it’s forced on my friend and her family, I realized the lump took up so much of her small breast.   Cancer is like that, from where I sit.   The appointments, the treatments, the rest it takes to just to get through, the support groups, the people who come into your life in much more intimate ways than you’ve ever allowed, all feel a little like a takeover, I imagine.   My friend kept telling me in the early weeks that it was moving so fast, and that she could barely catch her breath.   I’m not out of breath, but sometimes it feels like I’m still in a dream.   I can’t real believe this is happening to someone so close to me.   I keep asking . . . Are you there God?   I hope He recognizes that it’s me, and hears my prayers for my friend and for myself.

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

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We have spent an unhealthy portion of our 20+ year friendship talking about, obsessing about hair – our hair, other people’s hair, our daughter’s hair. We have talked about lengths, products, and styles more times than we can count, and even vowed together not to pass on our craziness to our daughters. And now – in a flash, her hair is gone. Understand that her hair was cut stylishly short (think younger Halle Berry) long before the cancer diagnosis. I was jealous, having worn my hair really short years earlier, and wondered aloud with her about cutting my hair. My mid-chin length short hair was starting to feel like it was dating me. I was grateful for the picture that her husband sent on Halloween of her looking beautiful and posing as usual, before my trip because it prepared me. The bald head doesn’t make her look sick like I worried it would, but different. She has a very small head that’s in pretty good shape, and I can see the dark outline of hair stubble raise up from her scalp. With makeup and big earrings she looks quite striking. Like maybe someone who is “voluntarily bald.”. In the restaurant, our waiter was half-flirting and seemed genuinely shocked when she told him that she’d was undergoing chemo. I keep thinking about the movie with Zoe Saldana (Avatar) and we both confess to looking up “beautiful bald women” on the Internet. Away from the smoke and mirrors though, she looks much smaller (even without a major weight loss) and more vulnerable than I’ve ever seen her. She complains about how cold her head is but won’t wear a hat or scarf because it feels too “cancer-y” (her word), and her husband prefers her bald head to the wig she bought – (her husband and mine have always strongly preferred natural over anything fake.) Her daughter plays with my hair though, while I’m visiting – running her fingers all through it – over and over again finding comfort in the feel of hair and remembering times with her mommy. I’m remembering my friend “before” too, and missing her with every stroke. Now, I’m not used to hands in my hair, but don’t even think of stopping her daughter – it’s only hair…not that important really, but something we want to control especially when other things seem out of our control. Among the last things I did before leaving for my trip to visit her were to get my son’s haircut and to flat iron my daughter’s hair. The first thing that my “niece” said to me when I arrived . . . “Mommy wants you to do my hair. . .” Crazy!

It’s just hair…

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It’s just hair…
Any black woman who has ever uttered those words, knows that in fact, it’s not just hair! From the time we are born, folks are looking at, or touching our hair. I remember sitting at the stove being burned by Vaseline and the hot comb, the “bouncin’ and behavin’” sorority days, my 1st halle berry cut, to folks trying to touch my newborn’s hair. It has always been about the hair. One friend even crafted her PHD dissertation around black women and their hair. But somehow, through many short hair cuts, I had convinced myself that it wasn’t ALL about the hair. I married the one black man who preferred short hair! I mean “I was NOT my hair! Then along came cancer!

Before being diagnosed, I sat through many a support group listening to women talk about how the loss of their hair was worse than losing their breasts. I read article after article about women who felt ugly after losing their hair. All that time I said, that wouldn’t be me. I was happy with long or short hair. I believed it wouldn’t define me if I were to ever face losing my hair. Guess what? I was right!

From the moment I was diagnosed my doctors tried to manage my expectations about hair loss. Friends who were survivors told their “hairstories”, in an effort to prepare me. “Maybe it won’t fall out” to “It will grow back”. “Think about all the wigs”! But it had the opposite effect. By the time I started to really lose my hair, I just wanted it to be gone. So my husband, daughter and I got out the clippers and it was gone. No tears, no moments of regret. I felt free. I actually like how I look without hair. What I wasn’t prepared for was everyone else’s reaction to my newly bald head.

From the 1st time I slicked some Moroccan oil on my scalp, I knew that I wasn’t going to be covering my “dome”. What I didn’t know was how so many people would want me to. Armed with new tips from MAC cosmetics and big earrings, I wore my baldy with pride! But, at Mayo, I got more embarrassed looks from other survivors, than looks of camaraderie. My friends started sending more scarves. My mom was amazingly silent when I sent a picture. Sorority sisters commented how far I’d come, but “knew it would grow back”. Now, some random black man would smile or say “go ahead sista”. Overall, people were shocked. At the end of the day, my husband loved it, so it was “ all good”. But one day when I told an innocent bystander that I was going through chemo, a look of shock crossed my husband’s face. He later said he didn’t know why I felt motivated to share, especially since the lady commented she thought I was making a fashion statement. I didn’t think sharing would make someone uncomfortable. One “auntie” told me that I looked sexy rocking a bald head, but to be careful, b/c I didn’t look sick. Huh? Wasn’t that the point?

My best friend thinks I am going to grow my hair to my butt when this is all done. I don’t think so. I may keep it super short. Aside from teaching my daughter that hair doesn’t make the woman, I think it looks kind fly. And at the end of the day…

It’s just hair!

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