Cause for Celebration

My stay in England is at an end, but I’ll always remember the stories. One in particular has stayed with me.

The last two nights in the land of tea and crumpets were spent at a lovely little hotel just a few minutes away from Gatwick International Airport. From my hotel it was a ten minute walk into the quaint town of Horley where one night I enjoyed a meal, shopped at the local Boots pharmacy, then stopped in at a pub where I purchased an excellent cider.

The weather that evening was lovely, so I took the cider outside and sat by myself at a picnic table, enjoying the music and watching people. One picnic table was filled with a fun loving group. They waved me over and I thought, “why not?”

When I introduced myself, they knew instantly I was an American and asked about a jillion questions which I answered as well as I could. They were still confused as to how Donald Trump was ever elected president and I apologized on behalf of our country.

This group was full of good cheer, but I couldn’t help but think there was something else going on.

“So, what are y’all celebrating,” I asked.

The beautiful woman seated across from me didn’t mince words. “Cancer,” she said, brushing a strand of blond hair from her face.

“Oh?” I asked.

“Yeah. I’ve got it. Incurable.” She shrugged.

Her friends sobered.

“We just found out today,” the woman next to me said.

“I’m so sorry,” I said.

The pretty woman smiled. “Don’t be. I’m not going to be sorry for meself. I’ve signed up for a trial. Help others, you know.”

We all drank a toast to her. She laughed and said something bawdy and everyone laughed with her. And I said a prayer for her. That she’d be comfortable when the time came.

I walked away that evening feeling the weight of her disease and the wonder of her acceptance. Truly beautiful.

Cheer, people.

I Worried

That the Chicago airport would confound him.

That we wouldn’t make it into the virtual queue for a Star Wars ride at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

I worried he’d think our family suite at the Art of Animation would be too childish, or that hanging out with his Nana wouldn’t be cool.

I worried I wouldn’t be able to keep up with my 18-year-old grandson for all the fun.

I worried about lots of stuff, but I forgot to worry about cancer.

Weird how I always seem to worry about the wrong things.

Some day Garrett and I are going to keep our vacation plans.

Mammogram? Yes, Ma’am

Today’s the day for my annual mammogram. Every now and then I’ll read some woman’s account of how painful a mammogram can be. I’ve heard that some women even refuse to have one because they’ve been told how excruciating the procedure is.

Well, I’m here to tell you that a mammogram caught my cancer at a very early stage. Following a lumpectomy I only had to have six weeks of radiation. I shudder to think what might have been the outcome had I not been a big believer in annual mammograms.

Do mammograms hurt? Not really. They’re a bit uncomfortable, but nothing compared to the pain following the double mastectomy one might have to endure if a cancerous growth goes undetected for too long. Just do it, friends. If nothing else, pretend you’re doing a photo shoot for Playboy. Yes, I have a warped imagination—and two healthy breasts.

Peace, people.

Knit Wit

On Sunday afternoon I went to a Meetup group at a Tallahassee assisted living facility. Our group’s activity was to knit hats for cancer patients who’ve lost their hair due to chemotherapy treatments.

I haven’t knitted in years. As a kid I used to knit misshapen pot holders, but whatever dubious skills I once possessed have been lost forever.

Fortunately for me, the knitting done by members of the Meetup group is done using a loom similar to the one featured below.

After a couple of false starts I managed to knit several rows before Studly called wondering where I was.

“I’m knitting,” I told him.

“Does that make you a nitwit?” he quipped.

“No,” I said. “That happened when I married you.”

Occasionally I’m the one with a witty comeback in this relationship. Or in this case, a knit witty comeback. I enjoyed knitting so much that I bought a loom of my own to practice the art. Who knows what creations I’ll produce? I think I’ll start by trying to make a decent potholder.

Peace, people!

Hospice Hearts

I cried in the mall yesterday. Not sweet, cute, softly falling, feminine tears, but eye-reddening, heart wrenching sobs. 

My sole reason for being at the overcrowded Governor’s Square Mall was to purchase my favorite moisturizer at Sephora and get out as quickly as possible. Of course the Great American Cookie Company caught my eye and I had to have an oatmeal raisin walnut cookie. None of which resulted in tears.

After devouring my cookie I noticed a beautifully decorated tree on the edge of the food court. White Art Deco inspired angels accompanied by simple white name tags hung from the branches of the enormous tree. Curious, I approached the evergreen and began reading names. A woman soon joined me and pointed to a tag.

“That’s my daughter,” she said. “She was so beautiful.”

I’m sure I looked confused. You see, I thought the tree was one that had names of underprivileged children for whom one could buy gifts for Christmas. Instead, it was a tree honoring those who’d been in hospice care in the Tallahassee area.

“Tell me about your daughter,” I said, when she pointed out the hospice sign at the base of the tree.

“She was only 30 when she lost her battle with breast cancer. Hospice was there for us.”

Then she broke down in tears. That’s when I started crying. A young woman, a hospice volunteer, came up and offered us tissues. We all hugged. I told them of my personal ties to hospice. Hospice was there as my father neared death, offering support and comfort in our time of grief, and a beloved sister-in-law is a hospice nurse. 

Hospice provides much more than just end of life care for terminally ill patients. The strength, wisdom, and compassion of hospice personnel are like a balm to the soul for the entire family. Many hospice organizations rely on donations from the community to provide their services. So, if you are thinking of worthy causes to donate to during the holiday season, please consider your local hospice facility. 

Peace, people.

A Good Talk

My mom wasn’t much for sharing feelings. We knew when she was angry. It was impossible not to know. We knew when she was happy because her smile lit up the room, but she didn’t tell people, even those closest to her, what was really going on inside her heart and mind. Maybe she talked to her sister. I hope so.

I, on the other hand, share way too much. If I’m happy I’ll tell you why. If I’m pissed off, you’ll know the reason, and then some. I even annoy myself sometimes.

When Mom was dying I flew down to stay with her and Dad at their apartment in Sweetwater, Texas. I’d just begun teaching that year in Great Bend, Kansas, and it wasn’t easy for me to get away, but my grandmother needed a break from caring for her dying daughter and it was my turn.

Can you tell it was something I did not want to do? I was in denial. Mom and Dad were, too, so we didn’t talk about death during the daylight hours. But at night, when Dad was asleep Mom and I talked. Now we never directly approached the subject; that just wasn’t going to happen. We danced around it, tiptoed, balanced on the edge, but anytime I came too close Mom’s face tightened up and the subject was changed.

We sat in the bathroom of their claustrophobic apartment and didn’t talk about death. 

I’d bought her a book. It was the children’s book by Robert Munsch, I’ll Love You Forever. I’d hoped it might break down some barriers and allow us to express our feelings before it was too late. She refused to read it.

“I’m afraid it will make me cry,” she said.

“Maybe that’s the point,” I said.

And that was the end of that.

She needed someone to come care for basic health care tasks, but a private nurse was out of their budget range. I suggested we contact hospice care. 

“But that means I’m dying,” said the woman whose bladder cancer had spread throughout her body and into her brain.  

“Maybe you are,” I said.

And that was the end of that.

She had a major seizure the week I was there, and was admitted to the hospital in Abilene. I should have stayed, but again, we were all in denial and I had a plane ticket back to my life in Great Bend. When I left, Mom was her old self, joking with the nursing staff and not talking about death.

She never recovered enough to leave the hospital, and when my Daddy called to say we needed to come we left as soon as we could get some loose ends tied up. 

As is often the case with those near death Mom roused herself the day we arrived at her bedside so she could interact with us, touching our hands and trying to reassure us. She called my daughter stubborn and we all had a good laugh, then she drifted off to sleep.

I sat with her that night and listened to her struggle to breathe. With her captive there in that hospital bed, attached to all the monitors, I finally got to tell her the things I’d wanted to say that she didn’t want to talk about.

“Mommy, I love you and I wish you weren’t dying. If I could I’d hold you in my arms and comfort you as you always comforted me.”

At one point Mom opened her eyes and tried to tell me something. It was important to her, but I couldn’t understand her speech right then. I called in a nurse and she tried to make Mom more comfortable, but she stopped trying to communicate after that. I’ll never know what she was trying to say to me that night because she passed away soon after.

I guess the point of this is, don’t wait to tell people what you feel. We’re all dying. It’s just a matter of time.

Peace, people.

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