Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Bundle of joy

In the hair salon today, I found myself caught in the most improbable lie.

First, so you understand how I got there, you need to know that I typically spend the Tuesday after each chemo session being sick all day. It's something I've gotten used to. Annoying, but happily, it's like clockwork, so I can plan around it.

But this particular Tuesday, I had a haircut appointment with a really-hard-to-get-into stylist, an appointment made literally months ago. I hoped that if I took enough medication, I should be able to get a quick cut without incident, then return home and get sick all over my house in peace.

I dropped my kids at my friend Libby's house. (Side note: Libby RULES.) I drove downtown. As I entered the salon I started to feel symptomatic.

The assistant stylist squeezed a blob of fruity shampoo into my hair. "Soo...you enjoying this yummy sunshine today?" and all I could think was, "Would you hurry up?" I didn't even appreciate her scalp massage. "Don't make a scene, Shelly. Hold it together." As soon as she was done, I excused myself and went to the restroom and was sick all over the place. Apparently, over-the-counter preventative meds aren't strong enough to stave off post-chemo sickness.

So I got back to her chair and my stylist began to comb my hair. "YOU are looking pretty blonde there, lady! Been outside a lot this summer?" I smiled halfheartedly and nodded. She stopped combing and let her scissors go limp at her side. "You ok? You look sort of...grey."

"Oh, I'm ok, just...well actually, not feeling all that well."

The brown-haired woman in the chair next to me turns and looks my way. "Oh my GOSH, do you have the flu that's going around?"
Her stylist nods emphatically and murmurs, "Mmm...Don't want to be getting THAT!"
Brown-haired woman: "It's really nasty. My cousin's got it." She kind of backed up in her chair, to get farther away from my germs.

Me: "Nope. No flu. Just..." (Oh, brother. How do I sum this up quickly for a few strangers?: 'No flu, nope, I'm just riding out the chemo storm. CO-LON CAN-CER CHE-MO. Try sayin' that three times real fast! Ah, but seriously, how you ladies doin?')

My stylist narrowed her eyes and put her hands on her hips. She pointed her comb at me and broke into a big smile. "WAIT A MINUTE. You're PREGNANT, aren't you? I remember we talked about this last time! [No we didn't.] You were going to try! You guys were going to go on vacation and try to get pregnant! You're totally pregnant aren't you!?"

Brown-haired girl and her stylist both looked at me expectantly with wide eyes.

What can I say? I blanked! "Um, yep! I am. And that's why I'm sick. So...yep. Good ol' morning sickness. It's the worst."
(The moment I said it, I thought, "Shelly. You just told them you were pregnant. You dumb ol' liar. Get out of here as soon as possible.)

But, for some reason, the idea of being barfy and nasty as the result of a growing BABY has a sort of sheen to it. Being barfy and nasty from chemotherapy is just... well, sad. And a little gross, especially in a hair salon.

Then, the barrage:
"Is your husband sooo pumped?"
"Is this your first baby?"
"How far along are you?"
"Do you, like, want some tea?"

So. The haircut ended, and I left in a rush with wet hair. I ran to my car and drove home, my abdomen in a Windsor knot. (My conscience in a slipknot.)

I'm going back for a trim in 6 weeks, so either I have to come clean with my stylist, or show up with a pillow in my shirt.

Be warned people: One of cancer's worst side effects is IT MAKES YOU A BIG FAT LIAR.

Friday, July 23, 2010


I know, I know-- it's been two weeks since I posted? What gives? Well, I just returned from a blissful 9-days up in Tupper Lake, NY, at our family's camp, where I chose not to check e- or voicemail for the entire trip. Then we had a slight delay in getting home (post to come on that debacle), and as soon as I returned, I got to indulge in yet another round of chemo! So that's what I'm doing now. Sitting on the couch in my jammies, cringing occasionally, trying to get the courage to go drink some water (it always tastes slightly pebbly and waay too cold to me, but I absolutely have to drink it). In a few days, I'll be back to my old self and you can expect several postings. Maybe a sonnet or two.

Til then, I will sit here scowling, watching Hitchcock films, and wishing I had some fresh nigiri sushi in front of me. Preferably salmon.

TGIF, folks. In my case, thank goodness I only have about 36 more hours of the wonderdrug "5F-U" coursing through my body. GIDDEUP!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Haiku #4

Chemo in the heat
In a land with no A/C
Really, what a treat.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

My friend, "A"

Back in January, when I first went to chemo, a young woman showed up for my first session. She was not a nurse, she was a former patient, and we share a doctor. Like me, she had two very young children when she found out she had stage 4 colon cancer. One of her sons was just three months old, in fact.

She is a marvel. The cancer had filled her pelvis and 95% of her lungs. But she's a rockstar and a fighter. She endured THIRTY rounds of chemo (I'll be at a paltry #14 tomorrow, by comparison), plus 2 surgeries AND radiation. And then she went into COMPLETE REMISSION!

Seriously. Think about that. I can't think of anyone deserving anything more than she deserved that.

Since January, she came to almost every single one of my bi-weekly chemo sessions, always making time in her busy life to support me. She made herself available for my weird questions ("Did this ever happen to you?"-type stuff) and talked me off the ledge more than a few times.

On top of that, she's feisty, funny, and she has the greatest attitude despite the crappity crap crap she's been through.

Last week, at her one-year scan, she learned the cancer had returned. Just a little bit, here and there, but she now will start chemo again. We have decided to ride out my remaining chemo sessions together. She and I, in our chemo chairs, shooting the breeze all the livelong day (and believe me, this girl can talk. Just like me.) That cancer ward won't know what hit it. The noise level will be deafening. Girl power all over the place. Oozing.

Just wanted to tip my hat to my pal, A.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Pop Music

Isn't it funny how, when you are going through something traumatic (like a break-up or say, cancer), pop music suddenly seems to be targeted AT YOU? The same cheesy classic rock song you've heard a million times will suddenly contain bits of seemingly inspired words and you think, "Man, he's been there, too. Layla actually has him ON HIS KNEES. That poor man."

So I was driving yesterday and of all the freaking songs to come on the radio, it's "Tears in Heaven" by Eric Clapton, which was written after his toddler son fell to his death from a window. "Would you know my name/ If I saw you in heaven?/Will it be the same/ If I saw you in heaven / I must be strong, and carry on /Cause I know I don't belong /Here in heaven."

Of course, I instantly think of my young son Rhodes, whom, at age 2, is practically glued to my side. But someday, if I weren't still here, he may barely remember me, or not at all. The thought of it is... (I don't know. Fill in your favorite word for "devastating")

The sad context around which this song was written is pretty heartbreaking, but when you can actually apply it to your own situation, it becomes sort of unbearable. I suddenly started to breathe in a very shuddery way, and I got this urgent, panicky feeling.

Then something AWESOME happened.

I interrupted my own sorry train of thought and did the thought equivalent of grabbing myself by the shoulders and shaking sense into myself. Because I realized that in my heart I actually DO NOT BELIEVE I am going to die soon. I don't think cancer is going to win. I am really beginning to believe that now. It's an exciting breakthrough for me, as there's a big difference between hoping for something and actually believing it.

Of course, the cancer could come back. According to statistics, there's a healthy chance of it. But nothing is written yet, so I guess I'm just going to ignore that and get on with things.

Oh, and for the record, once I had my big realization, the song lost its hold on me and went from being personally gut-wrenching to simply sad.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Mairzy Doats

We awoke Friday to rain, rain, rain, so we skipped our morning swim lesson and headed to the Museum of Flight.

There's a really cool World War II permanent exhibit there. It's filled with all sorts of WWII memorabilia-- leather bomber jackets, medals, propaganda videos, huge black and white photos of handsome flying aces from Nebraska or Maryland or wherever, etc., and a big collection of real fighter planes, with the noses colorfully painted showing which squadron they belonged to.

In the back of the room, in a large open space next to a P-47D Thunderbolt (it's a plane. impressive. I know) painted with an Ace of Spades and the words "Big Stud", sits an old-fashioned radio. There are several "stations" you can tune to, playing actual broadcasts from 1944, along with music. This is where my kids love to play.

Their favorite song is a rousing 19?? recording of "Mairzy Doats". You know, the old song:

"Mairzy doats and dozy doats and liddle lamzy divey
A kiddley divey too, wouldn't you?
If the words sound queer and funny to your ear, a little bit jumbled and jivey,
Sing 'Mares eat oats and does eat oats and little lambs eat ivy.'"

Betty and Rhodes just CUT THE RUG back there, playing that song over and over, spinning, leaping, clapping, swaying, rolling around. It's sort of ridiculous, but, it's so far in the back of that huge, dark room that no one's bothered by it.

My feet were feeling a little numb. (Mildly alarming, but just another neat side effect of this blessed experience). So I sat on a bench and watched them burn off all kinds of energy to this jazzy number. Finally, a family approached. There were a man and woman in their 60s(?), pushing a wheelchair with an old timer on board. He looked REALLY OLD. He had this look of fascinated nostalgia in his eyes, and he'd run his fingers along various artifacts as he passed them. I gather he was a WWII vet. (He looked like he may have also fought in WW1, if you get my drift.)

He sat up straight when he heard the music. His lips started mouthing the lyrics. Then he noticed my kids, in full dance party mode. His eyes completely lit up, and he motioned for his daughter to push him over near the kids. He started clapping and grooving with his shoulders. Betty's little pink dress ballooned out as she spun circles around him. Rhodes high-fived him repeatedly. They were all boogying and whooping with joy. A few people and a museum docent stopped to watch and clap and sway. Each time the song ended, one of my kids would hit replay, and they'd continue dancing.

For some reason, I felt touched by the whole scene. It was nothing grand or significant, just the discovery of an improbable connection in an unlikely place. But it was somehow joyous. I love it when that kind of thing happens. Life can be so sweet.

p.s.--I just re-read what I've written. I will publish it, but I'm acutely aware of how much it sounds like a cheesy email forward you might receive from an old friend. (young kids bonding with veteran. dancing ensues. life lesson taught.) Forgive me. xoxo