I am the queen of iPhone apps and one of the reasons I switched my blog over is because I can now do something I’ve always wanted to do. Phone it in! Not only can this old dog do new tricks, I haven’t forgotten the old ones yet!
We thought we had a little plan to keep her away from the pools. However, once we got to the park, Steven stopped at the Dog Park Guard Shack Gestapo to have the girls’ yearly shots, licenses and paperwork authenticated at Checkpoint Charlie. I took them though the gate, within the gate, within the gate. Our town is really into doggy security.
Just as a side bar, your 6-year-old kid could sneak into the skate park right beside Dogville, with no padding, no helmet and oozing chicken pox sores. No one would say a word. But, I digress.
What happened next is still a little fuzzy. I just know that the dogs didn’t stick to the plan. They scattered as we got in the gate, which is unusual. Zoey is normally extremely timid. She does like the big boys though, just like me. And there was as hot looking lab sporting a flashy collar and letting her sniff him everywhere. Need I say more?
When Steven came into the fenced area, I could see his shorts were in a bunch. He likes plans. He likes to stick to plans. He cracks me up, because my plan is to either follow the plan or not. I can go either way, but that’s my plan, so I always stick to my plan. Him, not so much.
The next few minutes were a lot of yada yada yada-with the pool, another dog owner, Zoey trying to sneak a drink. It’s all unimportant. This is the important part. As we were getting all the dogs into their rightful positions, this is what Steven said to the other dog lady, “I don’t know why my wife is so defiant.” Oh no, you didn’t! You did NOT just call me ‘defiant.’ I could feel my blood pressure going up. Foolishly, he repeated it to me. “Why do you have to be defiant?” Seriously? We’re doing this?
I won’t pretend I wasn’t mad at first. But it really only lasted a few minutes because each time I said the word ‘defiant’ in my head, instead of getting angrier, I found myself wanting to laugh. As a matter of fact, I’ve been referring to myself in the third person as “The Defiant One” since Sunday. Face it, I am defiant.
The fact that Steven would reference my defiance in a way that was reminiscent of the days of bustles, corsets and parasols was ludicrous. I yanked his southern ass right into the 21 century when I reeled him into my boat, let him flop around with that giant hook in his mouth while I was deciding whether I wanted to marry him or throw him back in. And his influence on Alexis has a lot to do with what makes her so determined (or defiant?) and self-sufficient today. So what was up?
I married me a good ole southern boy with a big heart and good soul. Sometimes his good ole southern boy mouth burps up his foot. So what! That’s what we defiant women like. A challenge! Lucky for both of us, huh? Now that I think about it, wouldn’t the ‘defiant’ one be the good ole southern boy who married a damn Yankee? That’s what I thought. Not my fault…again.
I’m here for you. And not in the Seinfeld way. I’m here for you just to make you feel better with no ulterior motive whatsoever. I’m not even going for the ‘Mother Freakin Teresa’ moniker right this second. I’m here because you need me. You may not know it yet, but I do…because I’ve been there, done that.
I know you need me because I needed ME when Steven and I were going through our initial hazing and rush week of Phi Beta Lymphoma. We didn’t have anyone to be our pep squad, our own personal “Hints from Heloise” or the wise family elder to calm and settle us down. We were like two survivors in a life raft floating in the middle of the ocean trying to decide if we should drink the sea water or our own pee. In other words, our choices all seemed unsavory and we didn’t really have anyone to turn to.
One of the most important hints that Dr. Sprawls (our oncologist, for you newbies) gave us was to watch out for helpful people who wanted to talk about cancer. He elaborated briefly by explaining that a LOT of people would want to talk about their experiences with friends or relatives who had gone through treatment. His advice was simple. “Immediately interrupt them and ask if the story ends in a funeral home. If it does, thank them, cut them off and move on.” I thought that was weird at first, until I realized that he was right. As he explained, those people think they are helping you, but they’re really still trying to work out their own issues. Let them pay a shrink. You’ve got enough on your plate right now.Here is another hint. Don’t rely on people with young kids. They’re like lepers. Kids get “kid cooties” all the time. They are minor to the kids, resulting in colds, coughs, yucky tummy and the like. Those cooties turn in to a weekend in the hospitals’s solitary confinement ward for the chemo patient. And just because the kids aren’t around, don’t get fooled. The parents, grandma who babysits and the casserole of rice pudding that got sneezed on in the car ride over can all be carriers. Sadly, we didn’t even get to see our daughter very much. Her part-time job during college was at Walt Disney World. She worked with Cinderella, and Belle and Ariel – if you know what I mean. All of those princesses are a huge draw for the germ laden autograph pens of runny nosed princesses-to-be. Let’s not even imagine what might be going on in Pluto’s head! (Literally speaking, I mean IN his head! If you can read between the lines, now you know that all jobs start in the mail room, so to speak).
So now that you know you have to be on guard, know that there are also a million safe and secure places to get help. The Livestrong website and organization is fabulous. They have workbooks, free to cancer patients, that will show you how to organize your treatments, tests, insurance and tons of other tips. There are a zillion blogs to help you feel like you have back up. Hitting too many medical sites might actually confuse you. If you want to do extra research, be cognizant that sometimes you’ll read something contrary to your doc, so be careful there. Wait until you have a plan with your primary caregiver overseeing your treatment, and then hit the web reading up on only the supporting tips. Otherwise you could be overwhelmed. The Three’s Company chick, for instance! If you have faith in your medical doctor and are happy with your plan, don’t get bogged down with cures made up of nuts, berries, chants and sweat lodges. I’m a firm believer in both holistic and medical approaches, so don’t take this in the wrong way, but I’m pretty sure that gnawing on a tree is not going to cure your cancer.
Not that all herbal remedies are wrong either. I checked with some of my herbalist friends and books and there were all kinds of teas and aromatherapy hints, chewing on candied ginger and host of other ideas to help with settling the stomach, soothing the mind and helping the positive energy. Don’t be surprised by the grandmas that suggest hunting down the wacky weed either. I was shocked at first, but then I realized that these grandmas were the right age to have attended Woodstock, so they had a point of reference. However, keep in mind that the patient is not the one who has the energy to go out to make the transaction. If the caregiver is new to that lifestyle, this is NOT the time to start looking for a connection. Landing in jail really puts the kibosh on the quality of care you can provide. It would probably be easier to move to California than to find a bail bondsman if you’re unfamiliar with that lifestyle!
My bad boobie buddy had a lumpectomy last week and it looks good. (The results, not the boobie) Now it’s radiation time and then we’ll see. That has made me realize that once you’ve taken this ride, even if you just watch someone else doing it, you still feel like you just got off Spaceship Earth. A little green around the gills with your stomach flip-flopping around. So this time I’m trying to keep a clearer head and catalog some of the info I forgot that I know.
Keep positive. Laugh as much as you can and keep your problems at arms distance, they’ll still be there later and you can deal with them then. Try to pay your bills on time, but if you can’t guess what? They’ll send you another! Try not to sweat the small stuff. And right now everything else is small stuff.
And then there’s me. The Mother Freakin’ Teresa of Lymphoma. Stop by for a chuckle and a cheer any time. I’m here for you.
Fun Fact of the Day: It was seven years ago when we went through Steven’s “almost killed him” chemo. Today is his birthday. Ergo, I MUST be good at this because he’s still here! And even with the chemo brain, the one thing he’ll always remember is that I love him. How great is that!
When I was young it was always a problem if I sat next to my brothers in church. I don’t know why we couldn’t behave or how it even started, we just couldn’t keep it together. We didn’t cause a big ruckus or fidget or fight. We would just get the giggles. Then the giggles would turn into that uncontrollable internal laugh that makes you feel like your lungs are going to explode from trying to hold it in. Everyone recognizes that scenario when you see some little kid’s face turning beet red, eyes bugging out and forehead beading up with sweat. Somehow, that physical reaction makes it even funnier. Eventually, we would get “the look” from Mom, which meant “CUT IT OUT” and that would make us giggle even more.
I knew that it was inappropriate to be laughing in church. I also believe that it’s human nature to laugh when you shouldn’t. I once slipped and fell in a parking lot after a hard day at work. My tote bag went flying, handbag dumped upside down, Tic Tac and Tampax scattered on the pavement and I laughed so hard that I couldn’t get up. I wasn’t kidding when I told the people walking with me, “This is the best I’ve felt all day!” It really was. I knew my butt would have a huge bruise the next day, and I was positive that my chiropractor would have crack me back into shape, but the laughter was momentarily euphoric.
So, I guess it’s no surprise that I laugh in church. Where this began, I can’t remember, but there is a certain response during a Catholic Mass which is not at all funny or provoking in any way. As kids, our voices would harmonize the response and that alone would make each other laugh. To this day, I just know that if we come together at a family event and are close enough to hear the others say the words aloud during Mass, we will either smile, quietly giggle or look at each other with a glint, acknowledging the hysterics of our youth. Happy occasion or sad – at weddings, funerals and other solemn ceremonies, the laugh could come at any time. We’re now in our fifties. I don’t think it’s going to pass!
So, I’ve done my due diligence for the day. I’ve explored my deep dark past and come to the conclusion that for no reason whatsoever, I find humor in the inappropriate. Whether it comes by choice or by instinct, nature or nurture, so to speak, doesn’t matter. Analysis of humor is the fastest way to make it NOT funny, so I’m not risking it. Instead, I just do what I’ve got to do. I’ve got to laugh in church.
That being said, I just learned that a woman I care about has breast cancer. Steven has been giving me statistics on survival rates, cure percentages and treatment options. I want to pass all that along, really I do. But I’m hesitant about my ability to avoid going off scrip for a moment where I’ll say, “Breast cancer? Oh, that’s getting really popular. A lot of celebrities get that. It’s really “in”. Looks like you’re an A-lister.” Seriously, I could say that…not in a bad way.
I want to help, to lighten the mood, to cheer things up…to fix it. I don’t want to make anyone feel worse! So would it be better or worse pointing out that breast cancer also gets you get races and rallies, buttons and bows and hats and T-shirts? It’s the carnival of cancers. With those thoughts, I’d be only seconds away from saying, “Wow, you’re lucky.” I can almost hear the church choir, smell the incense and feel my mother’s glare.
Nevertheless, I’m compelled to do what I have to do. I’m sure there are millions of patient advocates out there who think I’m incorrigable and sacrilegious. They are all people who just don’t “get” me. I’m OK with that. I don’t expect everyone to drink my slapstick Kool-Aid. Heck, there are people in my own family who don’t “get” me. For those who do, I believe that they know that I have the best intentions. I want to lighten the mood to make the bad stuff better. I want to make you laugh so you have a little relief from the serious side of life. Sometimes I think of myself as a verbal tin foil hat that keeps the aliens away. In my own little way, I’m Mother Freakin” Teresa in Groucho glasses and nose…wearing a tin foil hat…in church…flapping my elbow making armpit farts!
By the way…if YOU just laughed, is it really me who’s inappropriate? Kool-Aid anyone?
I used to tell her that if someone ever tried to lure her into a car, don’t go unless they promised she’d get her own room with cable. It’s still a family joke, because it left such an impact. It was my flippant way of saying both “watch out for strangers” and “you’ve got a pretty good life at home” all in one compact little snipe. Consequently, she never got kidnapped and never ran away from home. Double points, anyone?
With my outwardly relaxed attitude toward parenting, it may be surprising to some to learn that I was a fairly traditional, strict, discipled parent who just happened to have a smart mouth and an unorthodox lifestyle. It worked for us with this one phrase: “This is your mother speaking”. That was my attention-getter, my warning shot, so to speak. It meant: I’m not joking. I mean business. You have to listen. This is serious. And I am the boss of you – all in 5 little words. The were the best 5 words I’ve ever written.
Alexis has a smart mouth. I don’t wonder why. I take full responsibility. Her formative years were also the years I worked in comedy clubs telling jokes to drunks. You develop a certain delivery when you want to do your time, make an audience laugh and get the hell off before the drunk chick at the front table projectile vomits her 6th shot of Jaegermeister on your new shoes. So, I secretly took pride in her sarcastic comments and pointed barbs when she was young. It showed me she was smart, quick thinking and funny. Even if she was a smart aleck, she was like me. Good news, bad news scenario there. Bad news: Oh-oh, this could be trouble. I knew what I was like as a teenager and I was a pain in the butt. Good news: How can anyone not be thrilled to have a mini-me.
I was right about the teenage years. Although it was really only 1 year of the “Evil Alexis” as we lovingly called her, it seemed like an eternity. I must have said, “THIS IS YOUR MOTHER SPEAKING” at least 500 times that year. Unfortunately, she had perfected my mini-me so spot-on by then that she could deflect it with one “WHATEVER”. Suddenly, I couldn’t believe that my Dad was never tempted to sneak into my room at night and hold a pillow over my face. Or maybe Mom just convinced him that food sucks in prison. Either way, I could see karma, full circle, and “you get what you put out there” all at once.
And then one day, she came out of her room, wearing a tee shirt that wasn’t oversized or black and announced: “I’ve realized that when I don’t listen to you, you guys take stuff away from me and I don’t like that. So, I’m going to stop. OK? That’s all”. And she turned and when back to her room. We thought it was a trick at first, but it wasn’t. She dumped Evil Alexis, only bringing her back for rare moments to torment us for her own occasional amusement. And when she was adequately amused she’d just say, “That was the Evil Alexis”.
Why that makes me proud is complicated. It’s funny, insightful, profound, tastefully disrespectful and very controlling all at once. And to me, the intelligence to be able to do all that is astonishing. How did she get so smart? I hope it had something to do with me. I want to take some credit because THIS IS HER MOTHER SPEAKING.
On this very special day, Happy Birthday, Ra. You make me proud. I’m so thankful to have you. Even the year of The Evil Alexis was worth every second to have you turn out as beautiful, smart and loving as you are. You’re no longer a mini-me, you are a complete YOU. And I wrote this BEFORE you came up with the amazing plan for your life, so I’m more impressed with you now. I love you. TIYMS. XOXOXO
My new way of presenting cancer in conversation is this: “Yeah, a few years ago my husband decided to get cancer, but it wasn’t good for ME so I made him get rid of it”. It helps take the edge off the severity of the word “cancer”. I know cancer isn’t funny, but it’s not funny when someone slips on a banana peel either, but people laugh. So let’s hear it for laughing in the face of cancer. Humiliate the bastard and maybe it will go away! The format is Letterman’s the list is mine:
TOP TEN REASONS TO LAUGH IN THE FACE OF CANCER:
10 – You screw your insurance company by finally taking full advantage of those insurance benefits you’ve been getting hosed for!
9 – Even your bitchy in-laws will have to be nice to you!
8 – Free weight loss, no diets, no exercise, no programs!
7 – No one busts you when you go out in public in your jammies.
6 – If you need a pain-killer, you get the REALLY good stuff.
5 – It’s like a hall pass. No matter how crazy you act, no one gives you a hard time.
4 – If you have to get surgery, you can make them return your boobs to their full and upright position.
3 – Your kids have to start helping around the house…seriously, this is what I have to do to get you to clean your own toilet?
2 – All of a sudden, picking up dog poop doesn’t seem so bad!
And the Number One reason to Laugh in the Face of Cancer.
1 – YOU’RE GONNA LIVE!
He does morning prayers with our dog every day. She sits on his lap facing him. They bow their heads, foreheads together looking at each other. Steven closes his eyes and says:
Heavenly Father, thank you for this day, thank you for your many blessings. Lord, help me be the dog you want me to be, in Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
It’s quite lovely to witness. For that moment in time, our brat dog looks angelic, and I believe that all will be well. Until she jumps down, runs into the closet, grabs a sock out of the laundry hamper and high tails it down the hall, out the doggie door and deposits the sock in the yard. And that’s how I know God has a sense of humor. He is answering the prayer. He has made Maritza the dog He wants her to be. I keep asking Steven to ask God to help her be the dog I want her to be. But my stubborn husband just won’t do it and God knows that! Well played, God!
I’m much more relaxed with God. I don’t really know why. I was brought up Catholic with all the traditional rites and prayers. Yet, somewhere along the way, I stopped using those pre-written, catechism class prayers and just began my lifelong conversation with God. After I began to focus on this particular habit, I realized that I really am directing both my silent chats and those shrieks of “Are You kidding me?” and “Oh, crap! Help me get out of this” or “Thank God” directly to God. I know all the pious people, Steven included, will probably take umbrage with my format, but I reiterate, I know God has a sense of humor.
When Steven was first diagnosed with cancer, he was in the hospital. They had been running tests on him for days trying to figure out what was going on. Then, finally came a MRI that showed a huge tumor. By the time tumor day had rolled around, it was the weekend. An oncologist was brought in. We had waited all day, and naturally the doctor showed up after I left. When Steven phoned me he was dazed. He recapped the conversation but the biggest issue was not with WHAT the doctor said, it was HOW he said it. Steven knew instantly that this man could not be his doctor. He told me he was sure that if this man treated him he would definitely die.
“Oh God, are you kidding me? Help us get out of this (And this is my all time favorite prayer) What do I do?” I prayed different versions of that all night. The next morning, before I arrived at the hospital, Steven had a visit from one of his co-workers before she went to work. Lillian was a bible-toting christian with a big heart and a prayer for every occasion. She held his hand and prayed, asking God to send the medical team that Steven needed. Right after Lillian left, in walked R. Duff Sprawls, MD, our godsend. He shook Steven’s hand and apologized that he had someone covering for him while he was away for the weekend. And oh, by the way, he really wanted to be Steven’s doctor, “Because I think I can make you well. And in my business you need to have some wins to make your record look good. You will improve my averages.” Is that an answer to a prayer, or what?
So whose style of prayer was best. Steven prayed to God for the help He wanted us to have. Lillian prayed for the medical professionals that we needed. And I used my standard “Oh crap, get us out of this” coupled with “Please don’t let him die”.
If you think you know the answer, beware. It’s a trick question. They all worked. Call it what you want and do it how you like. However you pray, like the Nike commercial says, “Just Do It”. And then just believe He heard you. And be grateful. Tell him:
“Thank you God…You got us out of another one. I owe you. Now, I’ll be out in the back yard picking up socks…Yeah, thanks again for that, AMEN.