Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Big C

For those of us who try to make lemonade out of all the lemons, cancer is a real challenge. (Hear a Bogart voice) “Okay, Sweetheart, let’s see you make lemonade outta this baby!”

            When I was a girl, it was never said out loud for it was so terrifying. “The big "C” was what my father called it. Cancer. That’ll scare the b’Jesus out of even the big guys, even Bogart.
            I’ll admit the anticipation alone is a killer. I’d spent several weeks going from doctor to doctor trying to find out what was going on with me. No diagnosis as yet. Next step was a C/T scan. I’d never had one and was fascinated. The technician said they’d send the results to my primary care physician. I got in my car and was driving home in heavy traffic about 5pm when suddenly it was pouring rain, unusual for Seattle—we usually just drip. Out of nowhere, I was overcome by a feeling of absolute terror.
Where that terror came from, I had no clue. The morning after the C/T scan my doctor called to say they suspected the tumor was malignant and serious. She then told me what the next steps were, but I hardly heard her. My mind was frozen in fear. 
But I am a most fortunate woman. (Some of my friends think the angels take care of me.) My writing critique group met weekly at my home on Tuesdays. This was a Tuesday. I had told no one, not even my family as I was still dealing with the terror. It was too late to cancel, so I composed myself and prepared for the meeting. I read the chapter I’d written that week. Then Jeanne, who was writing a paranormal adult novel called Dark Breathe, read one of her chapters. In it, a high priestess is speaking to a young woman: “Halah, there is a long road before you but it consists of a single moment. The one you’re in right now…If you reach for time behind you or try to arrange things for the future, you are stealing time from this moment. And this moment is the only moment in which you can effect change.” Tears came to my eyes, for I felt she had written it for me.
           The following day, I still had told no one. My dear friend Judi sent this quote in an email. Christopher Robin is speaking to Pooh: “Promise me you will never forget. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”
In very mysterious ways, God was letting me know I was okay.
Well, that took care of the terror so I told my family. They were wonderful. Then gradually told friends. More goodness.
            When I finally finished the chemo sessions, my friend Craig, from Southern California, took me out to dinner. “So,” he said, “what lessons have you learned?”
            There were lessons aplenty. But here are my top six.
            #1. People are wonderful.
#2. I always thought taking care of my body was a “nusomes” (as Dylan said when he was little). Now I know I have to take care of it, as if it were my child.
            #3. I learned about teamwork. When meeting with the oncologist who would do the surgery and set up the chemotherapy, I was in the frame of mind that if it was my time to go that was okay. I’d had a great life. After he told me all the horrible things that could/would happen, he cocked his finger at me and said, “It’s not your time!” A wake-up call. I had this incredible medical team assembled and all ready to go. I’d better get with it, and so I got on the team. 
Virginia Mason is an exception hospital, one of the safest in the country. It’s not the incredible machines that make it safe. It’s the people. During one of my procedures, the doctors and nurses explained everything they were going to do (insert a port into a blood vessel above my heart). They bundled me into this amazing contraption and said they’d be doing a lot of fussing over me. After a bit, it became strangely quiet. The doctor said it was time for the “pause.” One by one, the nurses introduced themselves and told what they would be doing. The doctor did the same. Then he said, “Are you ready?” All loudly said “yes.” He put his hand on my shoulder and asked, “Are you ready?” I felt my body relax and realized I was also on the team. The procedure began and was successful.
#4. The biggest lesson was in the area of language. My eldest son John had flown up to take me to one of my chemo infusions. He asked about the procedure. I explained and then said that two days after the infusion I “crash and burn.” I saw a look of horror cross his face. I quickly amended the statement. “No, no. I just have a couple of crummy days. Everyone has crummy days.” I would NOT crash and burn.
On another occasion I was talking with a friend and said something about the poison they gave me. She paled. And I saw again the damage we inflict with our words. Not only for others, but for ourselves. Never again did I say “poison.” It became “strong medicine.”
#5. It’s okay to ask for and receive help. I will never be able to thank all those wonderful individuals who fed me, drove me to appointments, shopped, sent cards, made phone calls, prayed, and cared. All those hugs—even the long-distance ones. Wonderful.
#6. My last lesson was to find out that I am only one of thousands who have survived the cancer capers. As I went about with a turban covering my baldhead, strangers stopped me in the market, restaurant, or street to say they were recovered and to never give up. I can’t yet say I’m cured. That takes five years, but I am in complete remission and feeling great.
            To any of you with anything that is of great concern, let me join with your family and friends to say hang in there. Life may not be always be good, but it is can be very interesting. And you can make lemonade out of almost everything.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

White Crane

I do not consider myself to be a poet. I have friends and family who are great poets. I read their work in awe. How do they do that? I wonder, find a way with words that open whole new worlds for me. I struggle with poetry.  And so I’m always surprised when I find myself being poetical. And yet, once in a while, something happens…

A white crane stands in the water,
   sees me
      and waits ‘til I’ve had my fill of his beauty.

Slowly, so slowly he lifts
and spells himself across the sky.

Born aloft,
   a part of my spirit goes with him

Friday, March 16, 2012

A Leak in the Dike

Maybe it’s because I’m longing for Spring, or because I saw the workers harvesting tulip bulbs near La Connor, at any rate, I got to thinking about the little Dutch boy who saved his village by stopping the leak in the dike. Everyone knows that story, at least in my generation we do for we heard it every year. Got hammered over the head with the lesson it portrayed.
My first experience with the story was in kindergarten. The school was in the next block and if you ran down the alley and jaywalked, you’d be there in a jiffy. But my mother was raising her daughters to be ladies, and so I left by the front door, walked to the corner, looked both ways, and then crossed.
Our kindergarten room was large and airy, brightly lit from many windows. Everything was built to accommodate five-year old children. We even had our own bathroom with miniature toilets and basins. It was like playing in a dollhouse. Early every morning, the milkman delivered crates of milk, stacking them in the hall outside the kindergarten door. No cardboard containers for us. Our milk came in little glass cream bottles. In the middle of the morning, our teacher brought the warm bottles in, handed out packets of saltines and straws for our snack. The chores were handed out on a rotation basis and being one of the helpers was a big deal. To this day I find the thought of warm milk and crackers comforting. I loved kindergarten.
After our snack, we had story time. We sat on little rugs on the floor while our teacher balanced her ample frame on one of the tiny chairs. She leaned forward, clasped her hands and said, “Once upon a time…” the words that opened the door to magic and wonder.
            And so the story about the little Dutch boy went like this…Once upon a time in a land across the sea called Holland, a little boy was on his way home from school when he saw a trickle of water coming out of the dike. The dike was huge and vital to the village for it kept the sea from taking over the land. The boy was small, the smallest in his class; a boy who was bullied and called bad names, too small to protect himself. But he knew the danger of the leak. Water, as necessary as it is, can be pernicious, always seeking a lower level, going wherever, doing whatever needed in order to flow. The little boy knew that if the dike broke, his village and all the people in it would be destroyed.
            His hand was small, but so was the leak. So he stuck his finger in the hole and waited for the experts to come and fix it. He was a hero. To this day he’s praised for his bravery.
            The lesson seems obvious. Find a tiny leak; hold it at bay long enough for the experts to arrive. Let them do the dirty work while you’re busy signing autographs and giving interviews. Hero for a day. That is the moral, isn’t it?

Friday, March 9, 2012


On March 2nd, I woke to the sound of rain.  It had been twenty-three years since my son’s death.  Even the skies wept for this beautiful man who had died ten days before his 36th birthday.
            I knew I was okay, fine really, as reconciled to his suicide as I’ll probably ever get.  But I wished he could visit—just a touch, a hug, a few words, so little to ask. I miss him. I wept with the rain as my heart remembered its wounding.
            Another anniversary but I must live my life fully. He’d want it that way. So I went about my day, finding others to love and care for, giving a touch, a hug, a few intimate words.  So little and yet so much. It rained all day.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Blowing Your Own Horn

           Rules. Where do they all come from? Who got to make them up? Oh, I know they were intended to protect me—keep me safe, but now some of them need to be modified, maybe even abandoned.
            I realize that “don’t brag” was a useful rule That was obvious. When Johnny M. walked by, he was followed by the whispers. “Braggart, too big for his own britches." "Always blowing his own horn.” So I took a back seat. I knew what was said about girls who were uppity. “She’s so stuck up.” “Who does she think she is?” Everywhere I went there was someone to remind me to “Be a lady” "Don't blow your own horn." One rule after the other, and so I kept quiet about any accomplishment, went out of my way to be insignificant—ordinary.
            And now I question the value of those rules and need to modify them. Everyone has a “horn”—that manner in which we communicate about ourselves. If we don’t blow it, who will? Who can? It’s merely a matter of degree, of style. If I blow mine too loudly and too long, people might whisper, or turn away. If I never make a peep, no one will know about me. So the secret is not just to be discreet, but also to blow my horn in an authentic way, in my own style. Then people might listen and perhaps even share my melody. (Or am I taking this metaphor too far?)
            I’m writing all of this for myself, for I have a feeling you’ve already figured this all out. I’m still working on it. I’ve discovered I like to be acknowledged for my work. (I love to read your emails and comments. Thank you so much.) However, when it begins to sound like praise, I get uncomfortable. In some mysterious way I’m breaking the “rule,” the one about blowing my own horn, and fear some terrible retribution is due me.
            It’s time for me to grow up and modify that rule, toss it out the window. So I am girding my loins (whatever those are) and taking a deep breath.
            Attention to you out there, I’ve written a book about my son Bill’s death which will soon be ready for release. It’s called Suicide: Living With the Question. When an older person dies, we grieve, but knowing it was time for them to go comforts our sorrow.  When a younger person dies, the universe loses all credibility and the old orders seem to crumble.  To have that person die by his or her own hand is bizarre, beyond our understanding. The pain is excruciating.  There is no format for dealing with such an issue, and the mourners left behind feel not only their pain and grief, but also guilt and abandonment.  The rules have been broken.  Questions are in everyone’s eyes.  Denial and secrecy become the new mode, acid added to the open wound of grief, and a code of silence is begun. For each individual left behind, the suicide is devastating. And the attitudes and lack of understanding in society add salt to the wound. Suicide: Living With The Question offers hope to others, a small ray of light to penetrate the dark shroud of pain that covers the subject of suicide.
I’ll let you know when it’s available and how you can get it. I will greatly appreciate your doing what you can to promote this book.
There, I did it and I lived. I’m listening for the whispers and so far the Universe has not struck me dumb, not even touched me. I’m tempted now to blow my own horn about my new ability to blow my own horn, but I’ve a feeling I’ve taken this as far as it can go.