A Shameless Plug

 

I think one would be living under a rock not to know that October is Breast Cancer Awareness month.  I know of far too many people who have found their lives upended with such a diagnosis.  People in my family;  people I love and have loved with all I’ve got.   Friends who are inextricably connected to me through shared history, experience or circumstance.   And to deny the insidious, silent way that one’s body can morph from one moment to the next is just folly.  It happens all the time.

As it did to my friend Jill Foer Hirsch.  Jill is a breast cancer survivor, writer and humorist (I would put the emphasis on humorist, for there is little that Jill can’t find the humor in).  She recently published a book When Good Boobs Turn Bad – A Mammoir.  When Jill received her diagnosis, there was certainly fear, shock, disbelief.  There were tears.  And then Jill returned to form – “I have good news and bad news; the bad news is that I have breast cancer.  The good news is I’m seeing a hot plastic surgeon who keeps telling me to take my shirt off.”

And so she shares her journey with total candor and gentle humor.  It’s how she managed to endure surgeries and chemo, the vulnerability of returning to work and the tenuous re-immersion into her life.  I’m not going to speak about Jill’s courage – that’s not her thing (though she is one remarkably strong and accomplished woman).   She doesn’t see herself that way.  She would prefer to make an acceptance speech, receive an award for her light touch and flair for the comedic.  And in my eyes, she deserves all that and more.

I was honored to review her book.  I am more honored to know her, to be able to laugh with her and celebrate life at the local diner where we both indulge in grilled cheese sandwiches and fries (before you tell me how unhealthy it is – I know that.  But it’s diner fare, and we don’t get together all that often).  She and her husband recently celebrated their twenty-fifth anniversary surrounded by friends and family.  I won’t even tell you how irreverent their new vows were to each other (suffice it to say that Jill felt that since their first wedding ceremony was in Hebrew and neither of them understood what they were committing to, it was time to define the parameters on their own terms).

Breast cancer isn’t funny.  Jill was diligent in ensuring that her medical care was excellent, followed her protocols seriously, and would occasionally wear animal hats to her appointments.  We all do what we have to do to get through.  Jill relied on humor.  Finding moments that could engage her funny bone.  To lose her ability to laugh would have been a concession that she was not prepared to make.  Her outlook is inspiring – and may be a balm for anyone who is navigating the challenging path of fighting such a  formidable foe.  I am one of her biggest fans – and have been since we met years ago.   The greatest takeaway from her book is the grace that is evident when taking circumstances seriously, but ourselves lightly.  I am proud of her for sharing her story; I am proud to be her friend.   And though this is a shameless plug for her book, it is representative of a perspective that I respect and applaud.  She is healthy and she is well – and we laugh.  Oh, how we laugh.  Congratulations my dear friend – I am hopeful this book will be a welcome respite for anyone who may be on this challenging path.

meltzer-friend-cracked

That Space In Between

Home from the hospital – sore, swollen, fat jaw, bruised eye.  You should see the other guy.  Seriously, he looks great because I was asleep during my limited introduction to the doctor’s graceful hands and exacting instruments.   To add insult to injury, I think I even shook his hand before the procedure began.  Of course, I befriended the nurses, anesthesiologist, anesthesiologist’s assistant, nurse’s aide, phlebotomist and the volunteer who checked me in.  My interest is genuine and it also hedges my bets.  To like me is to help me if I need it and I really try to be a likable kind of patient.  Because mostly all I seek is a smile, a little reassurance and a cup of coffee.

I woke up with my heart pounding in my ears – “You’re awake!  You’re alive”  I silently repeated my name and address,  the names of family members, all the dogs we’ve had in proper order.  Wiggled my toes, fingers, nose – all present and accounted for.  Kelly the red-haired nurse who got engaged two weeks ago and is trying to plan a Christmas wedding because she’s also two seconds pregnant, brought me some ginger ale.  Ah, the art of sucking soda through a straw with a fat jaw is a challenge.  Half of the soda stains my hospital gown, the rest manages to make it down my throat.  “Where’s your pain level Mimi?”  About six, I gesture with my fingers.  “Do you want me to give you something for the pain”  Nope – just want to go home and put my head on my pillow.  Someone give Andy permission to get me home.

The reality is that with a circle of angels and a firm belief that there is a God, I got home pretty damn quickly.  And now that I’ve got nowhere I have to be, I will settle in and calm down, spend a bit more time soothing the voices in my head that tend to repeat stressful moments over and over – and over.  The whole thing took far longer than originally planned, for they removed two nodes instead of one.  But it’s all good – between the slices sent to microbiology and the samples to pathology perhaps we’ll know exactly what these interlopers are made of and how we can kick them out of their residences. Hey, maybe there’s a poem about neoplasm in here!   I hesitate to write too much because I still have a lot of meds in my system.  True story – after one of my spinal fusions, I received a call from work with news about a fantastic year-end merit bonus I had received.  Good manners being important to me, I immediately sent off an email to the Chair and the Vice Chair thanking them profusely for such largesse.  A few days later when I was corpus mentos, I read the sent email and it looked in part  like this –  “Thank you so much – I amrealyslpeesed…”  Was I horrified?  Yup – and when I called them they each laughingly assured me they were archiving the messages as a sample of when my writing ability eluded me.  Nice guys.  But I learned the valuable lesson that it is better sometimes to defer your communications until you are able.  In fact, there should be a warning label on medication which says “don’t drive or operate heavy machinery and if you feel inclined to write something, move away from the keyboard and whatever you do, don’t hit ‘send’”.

So before I make a WordPress fool of myself (wouldn’t be the first time, though it may be the first time it was unintended), I’m going to sign off.  Thank you for your prayers, your smiles, your sunshine, your teasing.  Thank you for your good wishes, better friendships and outstanding support.  Thank you for grinning if you find this sounds a little un-Mimi like and still read it all the way through.  And when I can lift a glass of something less benign than ginger ale, I will raise a glass to you.

 

With Apologies To Ogden Nash

If you’ve ever had sciatica

Or other throes rheumatica

You’ll understand it when I say

My nerves are screaming “Attica!”

Such inflammation takes its time

Plays havoc with a peaceful mind

Reducing my thought processes

To plebian words and rhyme

 

Since sitting isn’t optional

Typing supine not optimal

I’ll go in search of heating pads

And accept this posture comical

 

‘What Becomes A Legend Most’

It’s isn’t Janet Jackson in a full length mink coat, of that I’m sure.  I think the tag line is terrific – just misplaced.

We can all think of legendary people and moments for which books are written, songs are penned, clichés are born.  And then there are the everyday legends who may have no famous (or infamous) public persona, but impact our days, change our thinking, inform our choices and enrich our hearts.

There are people in my past who are legends in my memory.  My family is legendary – in more ways than one can define the adjective.  And then there are those who come into your days and you’d be an idiot not to recognize the karmic element of your meeting.  So it was when I met Chris.  He wouldn’t agree with me, he would argue that none of it is a big deal and perhaps when our time together is over, I will quickly recede from his memory.  That’s cool – he is forever etched in mine.  Meet Chris -

I began training with Chris a little over a year ago.  Given some of my physical limitations, I had major trepidation about going to the gym.  Chronic pain is well, a pain – long scars that extend from the neck down to places that haven’t seen the light of day in years, makes ‘flexibility’ a dirty word.  Tendons, fascia, ligaments that are just generally ornery – and that’s on a good day.  My body and soul are truly yin and yang.  I was afraid that at the least, I wouldn’t accomplish anything, and at worst I would end up doing some further damage to myself,  because at core I am still competitive and will ‘play hurt’.

Chris lost his leg a couple of years ago.  He was riding his motorcycle and was struck by a drunk driver.  I’m not going into the specifics of his accident – it was gory and awful and with or without hindsight, life-altering.  Chris was a trainer before the accident; he’s a trainer now.  He is an avid competitor – it seems that he’s in a marathon or triathlon every other week.  He hears a lot of praise when he’s pushing the envelope,  and deserves all of it.  But to me, he deserves it because he held on to his heart throughout this ordeal, he didn’t compromise on his life and he didn’t lose the ability to laugh.  He adores his wife, relishes his friendships and family and knows how to have a good time.  He still has to deal with the frustration that comes with parts that fail, waiting for insurance companies to do what they’re supposed to do, having to consider what most of us don’t even think about at all.  He still has to deal with the ghosts that dance in his head (even though he doesn’t think anyone knows about them) and get up every morning and dare the dawn to get in his way. And let me tell you, the morning steps aside.  As it should.

Chris’ will, his expectations of himself, his laugh…it’s the stuff of good character.  The way his eyes betray him when he thinks someone is in pain, his sense of commitment, his frustrations…it’s the stuff that makes him human.  The combination of heart and head, determination and focus, reality and hope…that’s the stuff of everyday legends.

Be Honest

I’ve got a question for you – well really, it’s a quote from Satchel Paige:

“How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you were?”

Peter Chang - self portrait

Peter Chang – self portrait (Photo credit: chaos80129)

My own personal answer is neither firm nor absolute.  Initially, I thought the age I am now.  I am freer, wiser, less frantic, more accepting.  I don’t drive myself crazy believing that a work legacy is anything other than illusory and fleeting.  I have time for friends – old friends that I thought I would never see again and new friends that I never thought I would find at this stage in my life.  I’m smarter – or at least I think I am.  I hold onto things for far less time, and leave the perseverating to people who enjoy it more than I do.  The ghosts from my past don’t jump as high on the bed anymore.  They’ve gotten smaller, or I’ve gotten braver.  I am still ridiculously immature, do silly better than I do serious and have no intention of growing up.  I figure this intractability is ultimately a good thing – it worked for Peter Pan.

I didn’t like being a little kid, though I would give an awful lot to be horseback riding with my dad again.  I did a lot in my twenties – the best parts of it were giving birth to my sons – the rest of the decade was pretty much a disaster.  I definitely looked a lot better then.  I was fallow for most of my thirties, hiding behind my little boys while I nursed some of my open wounds.  But my sister got sick then and the mere thought of those days fills me with dread and fear (and a little nausea).  I can’t go back there, ’cause I need her here.

By the time Andy and I got together, I was closer to my forties.  Andy made me less afraid of  grown-up love.  I inherited a sister and brother-in-law I love deeply and wonderful parents-in-law.   I loved my forties – though my children became teenagers, needing to separate and return, a dance with no rhythm and what felt like no end.  I got sick in my forties.  Still looked pretty damn good – or so I’ve been told.  My dad’s decline was steeper, my mom’s anxiety heightened.  Yes, I was rocking the professional arena – and somehow that has become a footnote.

So I’m here – and I suppose this is where I would want to be – with a few caveats.  I wouldn’t mind losing the chronic pain for a few days, and sometimes wonder what will be in the future if my body is acting like such a renegade now.  There used to be an ad on tv with the tag line – “when I grow up I want to be an old woman”.  It was a good ad – lots of old women dancing around, doing lots of crazy and silly stuff – I imagine myself that way in years to come (hell, I do some of that now).  I’m determined to sparkle.  Life deserves some sequins and a feather boa.  I don’t like the implications – that more is behind me than ahead.  Other than that, I’ll take it, and don’t intend to go quietly into any good night.  I’m too lousy a sleeper.

What about you?