Praying

Over the past five months I’ve banked a considerable number of hours praying. But I have about the same command of the art as Brodie, who at a loss for words giving thanks over a spread of fishy, unidentifiable Taiwanese fare, offered this: “We thank you for this food… and just hope… that we like it.” Although I had at least five years of CCD with nuns, my Act of Contrition is spotty at best. I haven’t had the urge, memory, or patience to complete even one rosary. My brother-in-law, Bob, whose own Faith is weaved of finer stuff, gave me a mantra for my scarier moments: “Lord Jesus Christ, only Son of the living God, pray for me, a sinner.” Too tired, drugged, and frightened to remember childhood prayers, and too humbled to ask for impossible things, this worked for me. Still does.

This short, simple sentence is one of the greatest gifts I have received (although Godiva of the Month also has transformative powers that are nearly Divine). Repeating it hundreds of times reminds me daily, sometimes hourly, of an ever-present, ever-loving, Living God. It also became my gateway prayer, leading to deeper discussions with The Big Guy who is calming, wise, and funny in addition to being all of those other things best itemized in song by talented types (like Bob) who can do Him justice better than I can.

Those who have less faith in their Faith (like me) could easily get hung up on “sinner.” Already browbeaten by Cancer, emotionally exhausted, and beholden to grandmas, friends, and an entire team of prayer-circling Episcopalians, were the constant reminders of my flawed human-ness really necessary? You bet. What a relief to admit my shortcomings to Someone whose Love braves my least charitable thoughts and shameless vanity. What a gift to be reminded that we’re all united by this moniker, and that I’m not the only one tempted to hurl paperbacks at small children. Every day I pray to be “better… and better.” I want this disease and the fallout of treatment to be over, but in the day-to-day, I want to excel at enduring it. And even if I don’t, there’s beauty in the trying, or at least some humor in the failing. I also pray for everyone who distracts me, feeds me, supports me, and loves me: all of you glorious, do-gooding sinners.

This preoccupation with prayer was inspired by Megan, who honored me with a request to compose one. Megan is a woman whose quiet beauty is matched by sweetness, generosity, and oozing goodness. Her prayers have got to be prettier than the homespun shout outs of this blogging sinner. But Brodie reminded me of the power of the deed, no matter the quality of the execution. Just the other night, Brodie asked all of us to join hands to pray over another smorgasbord of foods that cannot be translated into English. A-Gong had arrived that night, and this quorum of relatives inspired a celebratory, thankful mood in my 8-year-old boy, who almost never volunteers to say Grace. But in the moment (call it the Holy Spirit!) words to typical mealtime prayers eluded him: “… we thank you for this food… and everyone here. Does anyone else have anything to add?” For me, tears.

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Thanks

I’ve fallen really far behind on the thank you notes. Maybe so many of you aren’t bird-dogging the mailbox awaiting a pretty folded card, but I feel like a heel. I have some doozies to write, and given my near subterranean level of thanks, the process will be a Holy Spirit bender requiring a box of Puffs. How do I thank April, and Nicole, and Zealot Sister, A-Ma, or my mother? Sending all of them to St. Barths with unlimited massages and umbrella cocktails might go over well. That certainly would be easier than a tearfully grateful itemization of the many times these women have dropped everything to help me and my family. Because I’m finally well enough to go out for school events and coffees, my guilty subconscious (Paige calls it “The Devil”) tells me I don’t deserve to have any fun until I’ve written the thank yous or attended to the growing piles of crap I’ve ignored in the name of Cancer. I have a sneaking suspicion The Devil will attempt to foil my enjoyment of lots of things for a while.

Even as I put on my “hair” and awkwardly re-enter society, I’m just overwhelmed with love and gratitude. I’m hugging non-huggers and over-sharing like everyone’s favorite drama friend. And I feel it quite profoundly when I say, “it’s really good to see you.” Having been sequestered in my air-filtered, Clorox wiped prison for the past few months, it really IS good to see you. But I have all of the poise of a golden retriever puppy that finally got off the leash. Hi Hi Hi Hi how are you? How are YOU? Hi Hi Hi Hi Hi Hi Hi. I’m so happy to get out of the house, and yet I have nothing interesting to say. Four months of surgery, drugs, and prosthetic hair is crappy cocktail conversation. I need new material.

When guilt and flagging wit are the problems, surely champagne is the answer! I haven’t resumed abusing my beloved bubbles yet. I guess I’ve been waiting for the last bit of poison to clear my system before I test my liver and tolerance, and with a few lingering side effects from the chemo, my whoo hoo moment hasn’t arrived. Also, celebrating too soon will jinx everything, celebrating at all smacks of ungratefulness, and spoiled bald girls with messy rooms and unfinished thank yous are grounded! (The Devil is a real bitch.) Through this entire ordeal, I’ve learned that God helps me tune out negative blather. He’s actually in favor of parties (“whenever two or more are gathered in my name…”) and reminded me that His Divine Inspiration can be found in all beautiful things, like the fancy shoe department. So the Devil be damned it’s time for parties and plays and playdates and Pradas. And in order to pen these thank yous, which I feel from the depths of my Cancer-free existence… a bit of Prosecco. Boozy sentiments of love and gratitude arriving by post soon.

White Elephant

Soccer season has started, so off we go to sort of watch little children sort of kick at a ball in sort of the right direction. (My boys are not of the traveling team ilk of footballers.) Teddy’s assigned gaggle of seven year olds met yesterday and I felt good enough to plant myself at a picnic bench, guard the Gatorade, and meet the parents. I grappled with the idea of sending the coach a warning email: a Mom With Cancer Alert. Instead, I went to the park hoping my mommy friends in the know would shield me (they did), that my obvious wig wouldn’t give me away (unlikely), and that I could spend an hour as Regular Mom (not yet).

I need to consult my cancer veteran friends regarding re-entry into society. I don’t want to impose my Disease on unsuspecting soccer moms, but it was probably obvious to more than just the parents in direct earshot of the kind inquiries about my last chemo treatment. I suppose it’s possible that no one notices that my “breasts” and “hair” seem frozen in time and space. But I felt like I was wearing some hideous pink ribbon emblazoned t-shirt, toting a bottle of Purell, and carrying a clipboard promising to wear out some sensible shoes for The Cure. I’m not embarrassed about being Bald and having Breast Cancer, I just have no idea how to disarm its white elephant power in an innocuous social setting. And I feel terrible making nice people (minding their own blue Gatorades) come up with some sort of “that sucks, so sorry” sentiment on the spot. Of course, the alternative here is to hide out at home until I have hair; but I’ll still be losing eyelashes before the Rattlers call it a season. Lisa gave me an “I have Cancer, what’s YOUR problem?” travel mug, which could herald my reluctance to shake hands or remove my hat, but not absolve strangers of the pressure to say something profound, or kind, or untrue (they might look fabulous, but they don’t look real).

This week Teddy’s spelling words are all about family, and his obligatory five sentences included all of us:

I like my family.
My brother is cool.
I don’t have a sister.
I look like my father.
My mother has cancer.

A-Ma, superstitious and a bit disturbed, urged him to edit that heartbreaking truth perfectly printed in thick #2. Mommy doesn’t have Cancer anymore! But that’s not obvious to Teddy, the soccer parents, or me. We’re not there yet. But because I want to enjoy a bit of sunshine and fledgling attempts at “soccer” in spite of feeling socially awkward, it’s definitely time for this to become funny again. A-Ma frantically trying to thwart the evil eye of a carefully printed, simple sentence was kind of funny. So was Teddy’s indication that he’s ready for things to return to normal around here: “No Mommy, I need someone under 50 years old to help me brush my teeth!”

The Beginning of the End

Today was my final chemo day, my graduation. And yet, maybe it’s not. All of these poisons, drastic surgery, and the upcoming five years of chemically induced menopause will not diminish my chances of recurrence to zero. Although the odds are in my favor, I have a niggling doubt that this could be more of a Hunger Games Cancer. Maybe every person who deals with life threatening illness feels this way, but spelunking thorough the cancer blogs to find bits of wisdom (or even just some naïve cheerleader crap) means wading though a lot of drivel about the quality of fingernails, sorry state of taste buds, painfully boring discussions about insurance, and quite a bit about the surprising new heights of our restructured décolletage. I am told that the best outcomes happen to those who Stay Positive. But won’t adopting an arrogant attitude toward the power of these rogue cells (or God’s plan) jinx my recurrence and survival odds? Obviously, this is where prayer and all of you come into the mix.

Founded and unfounded fears aside, today was a great day. Bernie gave me a treatment graduation present in the form of a very pretty ring. It was so unexpected (and very large) that his worries that it could remind me of a difficult time in my life were for naught. I look at it as a symbol of his boundless love, support, smarts, generosity, and charm. It is a reminder that he believes this is behind us, even if I can’t fully embrace that yet. It’s just another bit of beauty at a time when I desperately need to find things beautiful. And to those who might cluck at its possibly gaudy extravagance, I will happily tell them why I wear it, and watch them eat crow.

At 3am (steroids make sleep a slippery thing), I’m bracing myself for the final onslaught of side effects, which have hit me sooner and harder with each round. But I have my chemo necessities from April, Nicole’s killer waffles, the dozenth dozen of muffins from Mary, and dueling grandmas keeping little boys clean, fed, loved, and occupied. Most of all, I have the prayers and wisdom from all of you. Lately I’ve been too drained to tap into the Universe, so I carry your words with me. I am so grateful that instead of cringing at my over-sharing, so many of you have taken the plunge with me. I’m poised at the beginning of the end, looking forward to a Tatum-sacrificing bonfire with many, many glasses of champagne… and hair.

Easter

I love Easter: jellybeans, lilies, egg hunts, little boys in seersucker blazers, and exhilarating hallelujahs. My Church does a bang up job of Easter. It doesn’t hurt that its stained glass beauty is breathtaking when the sun shines through, or that the choir is good enough to make the staunchest atheist believe, for at least a moment, that even if God doesn’t exist, Angels do. And then there’s Dorsey, Ivy League Smartypants Dorsey, our Faithful Rector. On any given Sunday, he might not get you to God, but he’ll get a good chuckle or cry out of you… and there you are cozied up with Holy Spirit unwittingly. I’ve missed most of Lent due to my fear of good Christian germs. But on Sunday, I’m going to be there to hear my spiritual leader give me the Good News in person. My Easter wish for all of you is that you have something like this, too… a place of beauty and light that reminds you that there are Good Things, and that those things live in that moment and space when we shake hands and offer Peace.

Don’t I sound like Zealot Sister? Obviously, my mood has turned. Honestly, I was back to my sunny side up self as soon as I got all of that off my chest and computer. But it might have been my most selfish moment. I temporarily forgot that there are really wonderful people out there who need to know this isn’t horrifying. And in the day to day, it’s not. Cancer slays me in the wee hours, during a quick glance in the mirror, with an honest question from a little boy. The rest of the time, I’m happily mocking it. I still miss things like tasting food and having hair, but I’m good. Today I can say without any anger at all that I’m thrilled there’s just one more round to go.

A-Ma has returned to spell my own mother for a bit. She arrived via Fung Wah with all sorts of gifts and news. One (long) story involved a trip to a gallery with a friend. A-Ma is savvy with NYC public transportation and uses cabs as sparingly as she does the postal service, or forks. However, her friend was nervous the entire journey to The Village. “How do you know it’s the right way? You should call someone! There won’t be time to eat…” and so on. A-Ma was giggling as she was telling this story, poking fun at the silliness of her friend. “Ah, these people… they don’t know that God is with us. Why worry?” Not only do I have Dorsey, I can also count A-Ma as a bit of a spiritual guide.

So Happy Easter (and Passover, too) to my dear friends, my faithful readers who did your funny best to bolster my flagging spirits. Because this site is PG-censored, I could never share all of the fantastic things that came via text and email… scathing and scatological Cancer insults in defense of poor me. You are a randy bunch of sailor-mouthed, porn-peddling, anti-Cancer warriors. I feel like the kid on the playground with the biggest, coolest friends. Cancer Bully can go pick on someone else. And a whole gaggle of us will be at the 9am mass at the Redeemer on Sunday. See you there.

 

My favorite picture of the boys in their Easter Sunday best