“The Last Time You Were Truly Happy.”
I wrote all day long yesterday. It felt incredible. Most of my entries, like Anne Lamott says, were shitty first drafts. But I’m really pleased with my response to the “Tell Me About the Last Time You Were Truly Happy” writing prompt. So I’m sharing it here:
These first few months of 2013 are the happiest I have ever been. I live in a house with my husband. I know, from three years of observing my incredible Mother in Law, what I want my house to look like. How to keep it uncluttered. Organized. Looking the way I want it to.
I have real, true, unfettered “me time.” I sit around in my pajamas all day on Saturday and Sunday. I read silly, thoughtful, gossipy articles on the Internet. I write for hours on end. I do whatever I please.
I create bouquets and place them in places that will bring me infinite joy each time I walk by. Our hallway is alive with sprays of lilies. The entryway with a stately purple orchid, serenely bowed.
On these days alone, I listen to the music I want to listen to. At the volume with which I want to hear it. Sometimes it’s loud. And it shoots right through to my soul. And I dance around my living room, perfecting my Breakfast-Club-era Molly Ringwald. And I sing along. And I get out of breath. Sometimes I slip on my socked feet, But that’s ok.
When JLP’s at work, I watch dumb movies. With nobody to question why I might be interested in yet another Matthew McConaughey bromance. I eat four pieces of cinnamon toast in a row.
I do not have cancer. I do not work four jobs. When I sit on the couch with my husband, there is not so much information flooding my brain that I can’t enjoy the moment. I no longer make miles-long to-do lists in my head. I give thanks (sometimes silently, sometimes audibly) for this moment. When we can hold hands on the couch and our smelly old cat can sleep, drool pooling at his upturned lip, snuggled in between us.
I have a husband who adores me. Who isn’t afraid of this post-cancer body, that I might be broken, that I may have progressed without him in some sort of cancer-caused journey of introspection. He pleads with me to do less. To heal. To not worry so much about a spotless bathroom. I agree. And I actually stop worrying about it. I let those fucking winds of heaven blow through us like we’re a couple of slices of commodity Swiss cheese. I accept each moment for what it is. I unabashedly ask for more time, for someone to repeat something I might not catch right away.
I’m ok with the distance from my friends, knowing that we can all check in at any time with each other and pick up right where we left off. I have no fear that anyone is angry with me. That there is any misunderstanding between me and another that may be creating conflict in our lives.
I am in love with life. I am in love with every day that starts with a fresh promise and a warm cup of Ethiopian coffee. I can’t remember a time I woke up every morning excited to brew a fresh cup of coffee. But with every single cup, I’m reminded that today is a new day. Anything is possible. I no longer make those big, convoluted plans that I have to carry through at all costs. I might do the laundry today, or I might do it tomorrow.
And who’s going to judge me? The Overachieving Women’s Club? Guess what, they wish they could do the same. They just haven’t had the reason to let those inner judges go yet.
I have, and it’s the most incredible feeling. I am so happy.
Cojo Would Be Proud
Friends and family who read this might remember my “moment in the spotlight” ages ago, but I’ll fill everyone else in. I promise it’s related to my cancer journey.
Once upon a time, I received a makeover on the Rachael Ray Show. “Mandy’s Miraculous Makeover,” I believe is what they called it. It was loads of fun. The back story was that I’d let my then-job on a farm take over my life (surprise, surprise) and had given up on even remotely dressing like a lady. It was jeans ‘n’ tees 24-hours-a-day, with nary a speck of jewelry, makeup or hair product to be found. I’ll never forget Cojo standing in my bedroom while we were filming, telling me to repeat after him: “EAR-RINGS. MAS-CA-RAH.”
Now, I’m no girlie-girl. Never really have been. I grew up on a farm and even now I have a job where I might be called upon to drive the forklift every once in a while. I’ll never really be confused with Carrie Bradshaw.
But BUT…this cancer thing, even with the lady parts euphemisms and the jokes about you-know-what exams, it’s kinda made a LADY out of me - mostly out of necessity.
I haven’t worn a pair of jeans since June. Between the pressure from the tumor and the driving to doctors all the time and the numerous NUMEROUS pelvic exams, the pain in my netherlands was SO great that I just couldn’t wear pants anymore. So I stocked up on some super cute skirts and dresses, and was even gifted quite a few by loved ones.
As you might guess, it’s hard to wear a cute dress and not then accessorize or pay attention to the details of hair and makeup, so for the past few months, I’ve left the house pretty darn well put together, if I do say so myself.
And get this: I even get dressed for treatment. Comfortable dress, hair, makeup (eyeliner even!)… it’s all done before I leave the house for 8:30 am radiation every morning - even on Fridays, when I have to sit through 7 hours of chemo afterward. And you know what? I’m not gonna lie. I think it’s helping my recovery. What’s that saying? When you look good, you feel good? I feel great walking into the cancer center every morning - I think Cojo would be proud!
An Ongoing List of Things For Which I Am Thankful, Part 3
11. Patty Molinaro at California Health Collaborative, a 501c3. This tiny, inexhaustible woman, former cervical AND breast cancer survivor, currently works on behalf of un- and underinsured women to help them get the treatment or any services they need. By pulling from her nonprofit’s pool of grants and programs, including the CDC’s Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program, she was able to find a way for me to receive lifesaving Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy at no cost to me after Blue Shield of California deemed it “experimental” and “unnecessary” and denied the treatment - even after acknowledging its documented advancements on side effects and minimal effects on nearby organs. I am kicking ass first and foremost because of her diligence and genuine care.
12. Jenais Zarlin. A treasured light, she stormed her way into my life via our mutual work in the coffee industry and now from nearly 1,000 miles away has orchestrated a fundraiser to help us cover those pesky unknown costs that will come when all this is said and done (the kicker about cancer treatment is, you’re billed at the end of your ‘cycle.’ So in 6 days I’ll be celebrating the end of chemo while simultaneously watching the mailbox for the bill). Cancer asks you to do a lot of things you might not have felt comfortable with in the past (like rectal exams). Chief among those for me is asking for or accepting help. JZ recognized that most in me and took this on all her own. I will be eternally grateful for her love and generosity.
There’s more! So much more! But I may need to carry it on to Part 4 as I can barely type through the tears of gratitude (ok and maybe the treatment-caused menopause. But mostly gratitude!). This is heavy enough as it is - isn’t Tumblr supposed to be more of a picture-friendly blog space? And here I am cluttering it up with all these sappy words…
Night and Day…
I am a completely different person today! How in the world does that happen?! I’m awake, I’m alert, I’m UPRIGHT… No nausea, a normal person’s hunger, a normal person’s day of errand running that included new sunglasses, a cappuccino, the bank, baby gifts, Target, MEETING MY BEST FRIENDS’ WEEK-OLD TWINS (and crying my face off at the preciousness of them), takeout lunch (and chemo crash goodies) from my favorite carryout counter, EATING AT THE DINING ROOM TABLE, a teeny bit of computer work.
The irony that my very best day precedes chemo day is not lost on me. Is it macabre to compare it to that sudden burst of energy aging pets seem to muster on the day they’re scheduled to be put down? Too much? Anyway, I’m not squandering this energy. I used it to the very last drop. I’m thankful for this opportunity to feel like regular ol’ Mandy, even if for a day.
Sidenote, I think I need a fashionable cover for my Picc Line other than the standard-issue cotton sleeve. Caught a little one staring at my arm in Target. Perhaps a breathable scarf? I guess I have til next Thursday to figure it out…
What the $#&@! Do I Eat Now?!
Like many cancer patients, I’ve gone through a series of stages regarding what to eat along this journey. I’ve heard and read so much: no sugar. Daily shots of wheat grass. Eight pounds of fresh fruit a day (juiced). No red meat. Only red meat. No dairy products. As much green tea as your body can handle. No carbs. No coffee. Well, a certain coffee if it comes from the bowels of a jungle cat. When you’re first diagnosed, the pressure to find the exact cocktail of cancer-fighting organic goodness can be really overwhelming and quickly adds to the list of scary unknowns.
Everyone remembers the day they were diagnosed, what they did in the hours following. JLP and I went to our favorite sushi restaurant for lunch. And later, when asked what I wanted for dinner, I requested chocolate cake. It was the best damn chocolate cake I’ve ever had.
Two days later, determined to do the right thing for my body, I was shunning all carbs. I’d eaten paleo before, so I knew what to shop for and what to toss from the cupboards. That night, I had a cheeseburger with no bun. In the days that followed, I decided the no-carb route wasn’t for me. Not because I couldn’t hack it, but because here’s the thing: we eat well. Damn well. On the whole, our eating motto is simple, local, fresh. We know our farmers, we know our seasons, we know our tastes, we know our chards from our kales. There was no way I was going to go through all this cancer bullshit for however many months and completely pull a 180 on my diet at the same time.
Until the PET scan. When I read the results and for the first time saw that a few lymph nodes were involved, showing concern for metastatic disease, my first thought was, chocolate cake. Second thought? Bourbon. Everyone knows cancer cells love sugar! (Don’t they? To be honest I haven’t read that - only told by well-meaning loved ones. See what I mean?!) Had I been spoon-feeding those cancer cells the fuel they needed to multiply at an even faster rate? If I hadn’t been so stubborn, showed some sort of willpower at the mention of an heirloom-plum-filled gourmet donut, might those squamous cells have stayed put and not ventured into my lymphatic system? The dread and guilt was all-consuming. For a day, maybe two. I’m sure it was along the 3-hour drive either way to the doctors or after that obscene banh mi at Out the Door that I decided, fuck it.
Was that not the most glorious chocolate cake I’d ever had? Didn’t I appreciate that plum donut so much that I immediately called the purveyor to thank her for her ingenuity and craft? Weren’t those times with Brooklyns at the bar some of the most treasured moments I’ve had with JLP?
There is a time in this journey that we all realize life is too short. It hits us at different times; we may have previously been aware of the sentiment and agreed with it for all intents and purposes, but certain milestones ignite in us the pure understanding that indulgences are what make our lives rich, whole, fulfilled.
This week, as I monitor my fluid intake to ensure my kidneys are flushing out that toxic cocktail when what I’m really craving is some Bulleit with maraschino liqueur and a little vermouth; when I’m Googling whether cottage cheese will help or hinder my bowel regularity because it’s the only thing that sounds good; when I thumb my nose at JLP’s concerns and buy a Trader Joe’s frozen macaroni and cheese dinner because it really is one of my favorite comfort foods ever, I am vowing to be off this self-imposed cancer diet roller coaster for good. I ask myself this: A) Does it sound good? And, as a followup, B) Will it make me poop? Too much? Not enough? That’s it.
And as long as I can handle it, Saturdays, my dammit-I-sat-through-eight-hours-of-chemo-yesterday days, are now my gourmet donut days. Because life is too short not to indulge once in a while.
An Ongoing List of Things for Which I’m Thankful, Part 2
A continuation of my first list of thankfuls…
7. My work (and extended work) family, who pulled a total Publisher’s Clearing House moment on me last week and showed up at my door with a huge TV and Blu-Ray player to ease my recovery! Seriously? Seriously!
7A. Streaming Netflix on my new TV. In bed. Showings include classic movies, rom coms with a strong female lead, and reruns of Ally McBeal. Ah, the high school nostalgia of watching Ally McBeal in my room after ballet class on Monday nights when nobody else my age was even remotely interested.
8. My angelic Mother in Law, MamaJo, who among other lifesaving things (including picking me up from chemo) has made countless trips to the market for anything I write on the kitchen chalkboard: tomatoes, cottage cheese, Norco prescription, potatoes, broccoli salad, prune juice, milk of magnesia.
9. All the dresses I so thoughtfully received from friends and family. They’ve been such a godsend when I don’t know what sort of ‘mood’ my lady parts will be in on any given day.
10. My super strong bladder control. Seriously, it’s all I can do most mornings not to let loose 32 ounces of water all over the radiation table. But through a series of hums, whistles, and face contortions I am able to stick it out. Barely. I pray the day never comes that someone else is in the waiting room restroom when I come flying in from treatment.
An Ongoing List of Things for Which I Am Thankful
1. My husband, JLP, who knows exactly when to be humorous, stern, quiet, assertive, or just hold me while I freak out a little.
2. We both work for family-owned companies who have assured us that my recovery comes first and have at the very minimum given us ample time for appointments without guilt or questions, and at the very maximum have treated us so warmly and with genuine care.
2a. My work family in particular, with my mom-like bosses and my big-brothers-I-never-had coworkers, who keep me real in all this and can joke about everything, including the times I get “the shocker” at the doctor (Grandma, DO NOT look that up!)
3. I wasn’t pregnant when we found this.
4. The doctors, nurses, receptionists and assistants who have treated me like a person and not just a name on a chart, even calling me after hours just to see how I’m doing.
5. My sense of humor and my strength. I don’t know where they came from or how I cultivated them, but they are of equal magnitudes and I treasure them dearly.
6. The warm circle of friends and family who have enveloped us in this blanket of care, good thoughts, and spirit fingers. I have never felt so loved.