Memoir, Personal, Relationships

How to Survive Breast Cancer

If you’re a loyal reader of my blog, you know I can’t let October slip by without mentioning breast cancer.

 

It has to be done.

 

It’s Breast Cancer Awareness month and everything is pink.

 

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month (Photo credit: Deepatheawesome)

 

 

Everything.

 

Yesterday I went to my favorite bookstore in Buxton, N.C. and talked to my favorite bookstore owner, Gee Gee.

 

She calls me her “sister” because we share a history of breast cancer.

 

It’s good to talk to other breast cancer survivors. It helps me feel normal.

 

Let me clarify.

 

It makes me feel normal in my abnormalities.

 

If I’ve learned anything from Gee Gee and others, it’s that breast cancer is never really over. Yes, the treatments and surgeries can recede into the past but the scars stay forever.

 

“Sometimes I feel like I don’t know myself anymore,” I told her yesterday. She nodded her head, fully understanding what I meant.

 

“Have you read Alice Hoffman’s book about how to survive breast cancer?”

 

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I didn’t even know Alice Hoffman had breast cancer. Apparently she kept it a secret, at least to her reading “public.”

 

Gee Gee sold me the book at her cost. “My gift to you. You have to have it,” she said.

 

Gee Gee is a wisp of a woman, about 60 years old, addicted to reading, the sun, and bikinis. She swears she’ll wear a bikini until the day she dies, which won’t be for a long time, because she’s fiercely determined to live.

 

I brought the book home and read it immediately out on the deck while Doug and his handyman friend, Burt, tried to figure out how to get the fireplace ready for the winter.

 

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Hoffman’s survival tips are a little different from mine, so, I decided to share my own:

 

  1. Pray. Pray like your life depends on it because it does. Accept the prayers of others and believe they are being heard. Just believing that God hears your prayers and the heartfelt prayers of all your friends and family on your behalf breathes hope into your distraught soul.
  2. Read, study, and cleave to inspiring words. I read the Doctrine and Covenants, one of my church’s books of scripture. It gave me prescriptions for survival and helped me learn how to endure well, and how to feel God near me. I held tight to words like these:”For I will go before [you]. I will be on your right hand and on your left and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you, to bear you up.”
  3. Let people help you in their own unique, wonderful, generous ways. And, see deep into their caring compassionate hearts and be grateful. The outpouring of love and support is life-sustaining.
  4. Ask for help. Realize that there is no quick or easy way out and you will only get through it by asking for help when you need it. I remember when my friend Cindy took Sara and I shopping for Sara’s Homecoming dress. I spent most of the time running into the bathroom because I was so sick while Cindy helped Sara. I never could have made that shopping trip without her.
  5. Have a vision to propel you forward. For me, I envisioned myself at the beach with my family. In the worst moments, I held on to that vision. I imagined the smell of the ocean, the sunshine on my skin, some soft hair starting to grow back on my head, and being out of the chemo fog, fully enjoying my beautiful daughters and sweet husband. My friends supported my vision by giving me beach gifts after every treatment. I came home to find flip-flops one week, a beach bag the next, books, and more to help me keep my vision clear in my mind.
  6. Listen to music that soothes your weary soul.
  7. Cry — loud and hard; and pound your fists on the bed to get out your anger and fear. Then, pray and ask God to carry your burden for a while.
  8. Get outside and move your body. Even if you can only walk to the mailbox, do it. Feel the sun bathe your tender, sore skin, and put one foot in front of the other.  Remind yourself you will not always feel like you are curled up in a tight ball.
  9. Decide what’s important. After a cancer diagnosis, your world suddenly narrows and you can only do what is essential. For me, if I could only do one thing a day, I wanted to go to Annie’s soccer game or voice recital or Sara’s cheerleading competition.  And I wanted to make dinner and eat with my family every night. That’s it. No time or strength for anything else. I watched a lot of Rachel Ray and made many 30-minute meals.
  10. Every time someone asks how you’re doing, say “Great!” Even if they look at you like they don’t recognize you because your face is so puffy and your skins looks jaundice or they see painful sores all over your arms and hands, just smile and act like you are fine. It’s the “fake it til you make it” philosophy, and it works.

 

If these don’t work, visit Gee Gee at the bookstore. She’ll lead you to a great book, call you her sister, and make you feel like she understands exactly what you’re going through. Or pick up Alice Hoffman’s book “Survival Lessons.”

 

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Family, Memoir, Relationships

Small Treasures

In today’s Washington Post magazine, I read a sweet story answering the Post’s question, “What has meaning for you?”

The writer, Amanda Long, wrote about treasuring her father’s appointment book.

It reminded me of when my dad died many years ago, and one of my assigned tasks was to clean out his safe deposit box at the bank.

vaults
vaults (Photo credit: the Other michael)

Deeply sad and in a state of shock, I walked into the town bank where I knew most of the people who worked there.

One by one, they expressed their sympathy and told me about how they always loved seeing my dad on his regular visits. Dad owned the small town dairy and made regular trips to the bank to make deposits.

I looked at two empty chairs across from a banker’s desk where my dad and I sat many years before when he took me to open my first bank account, and then again, when I took out my first car loan.

As we walked out, he said, “Always pay your bills on time. Never miss a payment, and you’ll always be able to walk into the bank with your head held high.”

Check.

I always followed that advice because I wanted to be like my dad, and hold my head high in a bank.

An assistant walked me back to retrieve Dad’s safe deposit box ,and led me into a private area to open it.

I opened the lid of that metal box and saw legal-sized envelopes stuffed with penny stock certificates.

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He loved investing in local oil and gas stocks and playing the penny markets.

He had a knack for picking good stocks and selling them at the right time. His brother once asked him to recommend which stocks to buy. Reluctantly, and after a lot of coaxing, he gave him some recommendations. As he feared, the stocks didn’t do well, and he refused to advise anybody ever again.

Below the stock certificates, I found some bank loans he’d taken out for his business. They were marked, “Paid.” Then, I found a stack of check registers. I thumbed through them and stared absently at his hand writing, so personal and alive. I never imagined I’d appreciate his handwriting so much.

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There were stories behind those entries. Some were routine — the grocery store, the doctor, Field and Stream magazine, an elk hunting license. Then there were some that had stories like the regular checks written to a friend who had lost his job. I knew Dad had given him some land to garden to keep him busy and to help him grow vegetables for his family. I didn’t know he also gave him regular checks to help him during all those years of unemployment.

I saw checks to the bank with notes indicating he paid someone else’s truck payment for several months in a row. “When a man’s down on his luck, you can’t stand by and not help him,” I remembered him saying.

I remembered a man who came to Dad’s funeral, who teared up when he said, “I know your dad didn’t have much but he always managed to help other people when they needed it.”

The man had gone to high school with my dad, and then moved away. Many years later, the man’s house caught on fire and burned to the ground. “I hadn’t seen your dad for years, but when he found out about my house fire, he sent me money to help me rebuild.”

Later, my mom was listening to a lesson in church on service and someone shared a story about when her husband lost his job at the nearby steel plant. She said my dad kept delivering dairy products to them even though they couldn’t pay him. She said he never charged them until he found other employment. In fact, she said, he became more generous and added items like bricks of cheese, cartons of cottage cheese, and ice cream treats.

In the end, the thick wads of stock certificates didn’t amount to much, but the check registers, which held no monetary value, became priceless.

I still have them today, and there is no pleasure like that of admiring his handwriting and realizing that, to him, those records only reflected the perfunctory task of good record keeping. But to me, they show the character and soul of a man whose legacy of giving means more than even the most lucrative packet of high-yielding stock certificates.

Family, Parenting, Relationships, Uncategorized

We said yes!

As many of you know, my daughter Annie spent part of the summer in Africa.

On her way home!
On her way home!

She came home on a Thursday. Her boyfriend, Josh, flew here Friday and stayed at her friend’s house.

(Thank you SKN!)

Then, Saturday morning, he surprised her by proposing at Eastern Market on Capitol Hill.

First glance at him
First glance at him

If I’d had any doubts about this marriage idea before, they were quickly washed away when I saw the joy in Annie’s face when she spun around to see him standing behind her with a bouquet of sunflowers.

Notice I wrote that “if” I’d had any doubts. That is different from I “had” doubts.

I’ve been thinking about this proposal for a while now as we plotted and schemed about the best way to pull it off.

yes

As Annie became closer to this boy, friends would ask, “Are you okay with this?”

What do you say to that question?

I said, “I trust Annie,” which is true. She doesn’t make important decisions lightly. Ever.

But, what does it take for a mother to really be “okay” with her 20-year-old daughter getting married?

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Since I’ve known about this pending engagement, I’ve felt like Steve Martin in the movie, “Father of the Bride” when he looks at his daughter after she announces she’s getting married, and he see’s a six-year-old telling an engagement story. (Similar to how I felt when she said she was going to Africa!)

Cover of "Father of the Bride (15th Anniv...
Cover via Amazon

http://www.imdb.com/video/screenplay/vi135569689/

In the abstract, I’d imagined me scrutinizing every facet of the boy’s life, character, family, and personality.

I know it’s cliché but, every parent wonders if anybody will ever be good enough for their child.

I mean, we’re talking about my Annie here, my baby girl, born with all that wild hair all over her head, the one who was so cute the doctor kept dropping by my hospital room just to hold her and play with her hair. In fact, she said, she’d never seen a cuter baby. (I had a different doctor when Sara was born or she would have said Annie was as cute. A mother always has to cover her bases, you know.)

Dr. T. thought Annie looked like she’d stopped at a heavenly hair salon for some highlights before coming to earth.

Does this boy who wants to marry her know what she means to me?

Does he know that when she was in pre-school and sang, “You are my Sunshine,” that my heart melted like a popsicle in the hot sun?

Does he know that song became “our song?” Does he know that we wrote love notes to each other all our lives and ended with, “Always remember,  you are my sunshine?”

That girl’s happiness means more to me than words can ever describe.

So, again, how does a mother get “okay” with her daughter getting married?

It’s like putting my heart and hers in the palm of a stranger’s hand and saying, “Be careful with it,” and then praying like crazy he knows how much I mean it.

Before Annie left for Africa she said Josh wanted to talk to Doug to ask his permission.

“In our family, he needs to ask the mother too,” I said.

I knew Doug would be too much of a soft touch. If anyone was going to do the scrutinizing and deep, investigative reporting, it would have to be me.

I had my opportunity for this big talk a few weeks ago when Josh and I went to lunch.

A weird thing happened at that lunch.

Even though I was armed with questions, and had ignited my full-on mother radar , a softness took over me, and my goal became to see Josh as Annie saw him.

Instead of wanting to grill him, I wanted to love him. I wanted to love and appreciate the man Annie knows and loves.

And, guess what?

It was easy.

I received a beautiful gift and sensed the humble, sweet spirit of a young man who truly adores my baby girl.

So, when she said “Yes” to him at Eastern market, so did I.

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I’m okay with this.

I’m okay with him.

I’m more than okay. I’m excited because I can see why he chose her; and why she chose him.

And, this mother is quite okay.

But, Josh, always remember, she was my sunshine first…

You Are My Sunshine
You Are My Sunshine (Photo credit: Enokson)
Memoir, Personal, Relationships

Regrets and Do-Overs

While in Utah visiting my family, my sister and I got into a conversation about regrets.

What do I regret? What kinds of things would I do differently if I had a few do-overs?

Life never stops moving forward. Stay focused ...
credit: deeplifequotes)

Do I regret filling yards of surgical tubing with water and spraying an apartment full of poker-playing boys in college? No.

Do I regret filling up my first semester of college with classes like trampoline, tennis and dance?

Or making a spontaneous decision at 9 p.m. at night to load my car with college friends and drive to Las Vegas for the weekend?

Nope.

What I regret are the times I could have been kinder to people.

Valentines-Day-Hearts-Collection-Free-Stock-Photos-Small

I remember a girl in junior high and high school that everyone teased mercilessly because she had acne and a nervous twitch.

As she walked down the halls, people imitated her twitch as she passed them.

I hated walking that same gauntlet as all the boys sat on the hall benches and called me “Little Bob,” after my Dad who was a little league football coach or “Little Snowsie,” after my brother.”

If I hated that kind of attention, how must it have been to be mocked for bad skin and a sudden jerk of the neck I couldn’t control?

Luckily, I can’t remember directly teasing her myself, but maybe I’ve conveniently forgotten that detail because I’m ashamed of myself.

Even if I didn’t personally injure her, I never once stood up for her.

I’m ashamed of myself for the times I could have stepped back from the teasing or stepped in to stop it; for the times I kept my mouth shut when I could have jumped to someone’s defense or when I opened my mouth only to add to the cutting remarks.

Doug shared a story on Facebook from The New York Times Magazine called, “George Saunder’s Advice to Graduates.”

http://6thfloor.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/07/31/george-saunderss-advice-to-graduates/

He wrote about regret he’s carried for  42-years. He regrets that he wasn’t nice to a shy girl who joined his seventh grade class.

She wore blue cat-eye glasses and nervously chewed on her hair.

Students teased her, asking if her hair tasted good, or they simply ignored her and never tried to befriend her.

I don’t know how many kids passed through my life like that. How many did I ignore because they didn’t look or dress right or simply because I had plenty of friends?

Saunder’s said, “Relative to most of the other kids, I was actually pretty nice to her. I never said an unkind word to her. In fact, I sometimes even (mildly) defended her. But it still bothers me. So here’s something I know to be true, although it’s a little corny, and I don’t quite know what to do with it: What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness.”

That phrase “failures of kindness” hit me hard because that is what I regret most too.

“Those moments when another human being was there, in front of me, suffering, and I responded…sensibly. Reservedly. Mildly,” he said.

But, what about the times I didn’t respond sensibly, reservedly or mildly and without even knowing it, may have been downright cruel?

There are no do-overs for those times.

In his graduation speech, he wisely shared that: “as you get older, your self will diminish and you will grow in love. YOU will be gradually replaced by LOVE. If you have kids, that will be a huge moment in your process of self-diminishment. You won’t really care what happens to YOU, as long as they benefit.” (One of the best reasons ever for having children!)

His end-of-speech advice was, “Since , according to me, your life is going to be a gradual process of becoming kinder and more loving: Hurry up! Speed it along. Start right now.”

If I had one do-over, I would definitely follow his advice and err on the side of kindness. I’ve clearly become a much kinder, more selfless person as I’ve aged.

But, if I could dial the years back to my adolescence and do a few things differently, I’d still do the crazy things like hose down the poker-playing boys, master my trampoline moves, and skip off to Vegas; but, I’d also be a lot kinder.

Related articles

Family, Relationships

How Do I Love Thee?

Cover of "Valentine"

Let me start by confessing that I am not the most romantic woman in the world.

When Sara was a little girl, she called me “pathetic” because I couldn’t think of anything romantic to give Doug for Valentines.

I guess she thought my red toolbox didn’t cut it.

Tool Box
(Photo credit: pferriola)

I am a practical gift giver.

I try to be a frivolous giver but it’s just not in my personality.

Sometimes I say, “Let’s not give each other Valentines this year. We know we love each other.”

I say that to save me the trouble of trying to think of a romantic gift.

Even when he agrees to the no-gift idea, he still sends me gorgeous, generous bouquets of flowers.

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He can’t help himself.

He is a romantic.

In Myers Briggs language, he is a strong “feeler.”

I am a strong “thinker.”

The way you know which one you are is by considering what is most important to you when you make a decision. If you prefer to make decisions based on objective principles like what makes sense or is logical, you are probably a thinker.

If you put more weight on personal concerns like what is best for the people involved, and what will make them happy, you are probably a feeler.

Thinkers like to analyze pros and cons. Feelers like to create harmony and are motivated by what seems most caring and warm.

This is why I give Doug gifts like red toolboxes and why he gives me luxurious flowers and other impractical, but loving gifts.

I’ve mentioned before that Doug and I took the Myers Briggs test before we got married, and it was very educational. It helped us understand each other better.

When we went house hunting for our first home, we walked into the top-of-the-line builder’s model, called the “Laurel,” a large townhouse with a sweeping spiral staircase in the entry way. The salesman told us it was the most popular model because it also had a garage. (Actually he said it had a “Gar-Arge,” which we forever after enjoyed mimicking.)

Doug immediately said, “This is it! This is the one. We don’t need to look at the other models.”

I immediately said, “We don’t need that staircase and we can’t afford a Gar-Arge.”

“But it’s so pretty,” the feeler husband said.

“And so impractical,” the thinker wife replied.

These types of thinker-feeler discussions are integral to our marriage.

When we stopped at the outlets on the way home from the beach one summer, the girls wanted to buy school clothes.

We went into the Ralph Lauren store and they grabbed arm-loads of clothing to try on.

girls

All of them looked adorable.

“Which one should I choose?” they asked.

“Which one will you wear the most?” I asked.

“Why are you even trying to choose?” Doug questioned. “Why not get them all if you like them?”

The thinker in me could not be silent. “Doug, they do not need all those clothes.”

The feeler in him said, “But they like them!”

The negotiations went on, and since he had the money, he won.

(Obviously, our kids have always loved shopping with Doug. We are just lucky he doesn’t go very often because it’s about his least favorite thing to do.)

So, as Valentines Day approaches, I’m back at wanting to say, “Doug, my darling stud muffin of a Valentine, how about if we forget gifts this year?”

He might say yes to please me because, of course, he is a major feeler, and he wants me to be happy, and for our marriage to be harmonious.

But, I know he will never forget Valentines Day.

Never.

He will do something lovely, thoughtful, and sweet, and all I can think of is to give him a new Nats baseball hat and some game tickets because, of course, they are practical…and red. (And he already knows I bought them.)

Last year, I outdid myself.

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I wrote love notes on red hearts and taped them all over the inside of his car after he went to bed so that he would be surprised by my tenderness on Valentines Day.

I don’t know how to top that.

He already has a red toolbox and a red tool cabinet.

I am desperate for romantic ideas.

Please send them my way… but only if they make sense and seem practical. At times like this, it’s so much better to be a feeler.