This is what the after-dinner cuddle looked like last night. It was Dennis’s last supper at home before leaving for his annual China trip. We ate a roast, sipped wine, and talked Virgil into believing that all would be fine with his Daddy away.
Dennis has only been gone since 7:20 this morning, but I miss him already. The first few days after he departs are always the hardest. A little off-kilter, I don’t sleep as soundly, and I wear an extra sweater around the house because I know that warm hugs aren’t coming through the door any time soon.
Little J and I are excited though too. First of all, Auntie Mari is coming to stay. Second, the long-awaited Chuck E. Cheese trip is coming up. And finally, Grandma will be here. For Little J, this means brand new sneakers and many other treats. For me, it means good food, deep sleep, and sharing a quilt for an old movie or two.
This China trip is shorter than most, so it shouldn’t be as hard. But when you land and read this baby, please know that we already miss you dearly. It’s about to start raining, and we’re hoping the new blossoms will hang onto their branches until you’re back.
I was going to post about my intention to be more compassionate this year. More tolerant, to be specific. I have a tendency to react to things in a way that causes me pain. I react inwardly, stuffing down feelings which never really dissipate. And before you know it, I’m surrounded by black swans. My own shadow side, projected outwardly. I think we all do this, a little bit. Right?
So is the answer to be more compassionate? More tolerant? And if so, what does that mean?
A world-renowned specialist in Chinese medicine and cancer treatment, a guy whom people travel the world to see in his tiny office in San Anselmo put his pen down and looked me in the eyes after we’d talked for about a half hour, after he’d had a chance to gather a sense of me.
“You know there are some who believe there is a cancer personality.”
“Yes. There’s a belief that our cellular activity mimics our mental/emotional activity. If we are the types to accommodate abuse and other transgressions, no matter how large or small, then our healthy cells will do the same. They’re suppose to attack the offensive, rogue cells. But the healthy cells look the other way. They accommodate the dangerous cells. Then the cancer grows and takes over.”
“That’s fascinating,” I said. Accommodating. Emotionally looking the other way.
I don’t know if I believe the theory, but I find it intriguing, a sort of quantum relationship between cellular behavior and emotional behavior. I certainly haven’t forgotten it. I wrote down what he said, word-for-word.
“So, if we have this cancer personality type, what should we do?” I asked.
“We should get really, really angry.”
Interesting. Allowing ourselves to rant and get pissed off, we teach our cells not to put up with it so that our healthy cells turn on the cancer, stick up for themselves.
But what about compassion? Tolerance? Isn’t that what Jesus and the Buddha would have us practice instead? Do we respond to hateful political rhetoric, for instance, with tolerance and compassion? Do we look the other way? Won’t the cells then do the same and allow the cancer to grow? Incite the shooter, like the one in Arizona, to take people down?
I just don’t know.
I was mulling over this question over my morning tea while little J played out a furious battle between his Hero Factory characters. Then I read Tim Booth’s blog post in which he asks a similar question. He wonders what would happen if we let our inner F*you a little free range. Would we be living from a space of truth? And would this mean we are not compassionate?
Some people think that every word or action is an expression of love or a desperate cry for love. I was going to post today that my fourth intention for 2011 was to live from a space that sees things this way. My intention was going to be to have compassion and tolerance for every word or action, knowing that it is either from a space of love of lack thereof.
But I just don’t know.
Instead, my fourth seed, one for love, is the intention to try to balance compassion and tolerance with my inner F* you who won’t tolerate bad behavior, hate-inciting language on the part of our “leaders” or the people in my community, even. I don’t know how to balance that, but I intend to try to this year. To show my cells (and my son for that matter) that we deserve better.
ps: Please share with me how you balance compassion and tolerance with “not putting up with it.” I know I have some peeps out there who are especially good at it.
I’ve been thinking a lot about Chopin lately. Not shoppin’, which I guess I should be thinking about.
Chopin’s Waltz No. 1, in particular, has been running around in my head. Running up and down stairs, big fat clumsy-but-precise fingers tripping over and skipping several stairs at a time.
I listened to the Waltz a lot when I was preggers with Little J. While I edited giant sheets of textbook pages at the kitchen table, my pencil kept time with the rain drumming its clumsy-but-precise fingers on the window of our tiny, dark apartment in Berkeley. Little J kicked at my tummy as I raced through the papers, chasing deadlines, the plinkety-plinking piano trailing up and down the stairs all around me.
Now Little J kicks, but it’s the back of my chair in the Jetta when the Waltz comes on the radio. I crank it and ask him for the hundredth time, “Do you recognize this piece, honey? I listened to it all the time when you were in my belly.”
“No. I still don’t remember it, mommy.” Kick.
When I hear the Waltz these days, I still see the stairs, the scene Escher-esque in my mind’s eye:
Escher's Dream, by ClaireJones. Deviantart.com
But these days, as the fingers race up and down the keys, I see glimpses of a lady, dashing through the rain to get her little one to school, or the same little one with his dad untangling Christmas lights decorating the tree licking frosting off the knife the sprinkles on the fingers the tape the ribbon and the floor… a jumble of glittering scenes of ritual holiday preparations.
Conspiring with Santa, and maybe waiting for something else.
Unlike the usual Christmas tunes, the Waltz is my little soundtrack for the hustling and the bustling and the getting-it-all-done and the making-sure-to-enjoy-it at the same time.
Yesterday I found out that, due to the bone-crusher shots, my white cell count was high enough to do chemo. There will be no seventh round because, as Doc G states, “By these delays we see that we have reached toxicity level.” That leaves ONE more infusion on to go. A few more white cell shots will be given to make sure we can get the last chemo done on Monday, in time to rest up for aloooha time on the 15th.
After I return, I’ll have a scan then start on one of THREE possible maintenance plans. Option 1) is Avastin, a non-chemo drug which cuts off blood supply to developing tumors. Preliminary study results for Avastin for maintenance are good-ish. Option 2) is a vaccine trial at UCSF. Everyone in the trial will get a immune-boosting drug to help stave off a recurrence. Some in the study will get the ovarian cancer vaccine in addition to the immune-booster. Option 3) is at my favorite place, the California Cancer Center. It involves a 50-50 chance of getting a placebo or a vaccine on its own.
We’ll see. That leaves a lot to think about. For now, we’re just focusing on getting through these last two weeks of chemo.
Hugs, and a Happy Anniversary shout out to Dennis. Remember when we danced to this song eight years ago while Eric played?
Instead of chemo yesterday, I had a blood transfusion. My platelet count was too low for me to be treated. At first, I was so disappointed, mostly because this means we’ll be pushing the end date of my treatment out by one week. Then Mari pointed out that I actually just earned another week of summer, a week of feeling good at that. Getting two giants bags of blood added to your system is a very positive thing. A-positive, to be exact.
So I got my blood and wow! (Dear vampires, I see what all the fuss is about.) I haven’t felt this good since maybe 2007. I’ll be enjoying an extra week of summer with extra energy and feeling strong. Fabulous. Blessing in disguise. Which reminds me. Do you know the story of Melody Gardot? Mari told me this one.
At nineteen, Ms. Gardot was hit by a car while cycling. Injuries to her head, spine, and pelvis kept her in a hospital bed for an entire year. Lying on her back. It also left her with hyper-sensitivity to light and sound, so she has to wear sunglasses all the time, even indoors.
Melody used music therapy to lift her spirits and to help with the neurological damage that made it difficult for her to speak, think of the right words to say, and remember things. During this time, she started to play the guitar and to sing and write her own songs.
I think you’re going to want to add her to your play list when you hear this. Enjoy Ms. Gardot singing Worrisome Heart: (ps: The second photo looks exactly like the street I lived on when I lived in Spain, right Jon?)
This photo sort of says it all. Our camping trip to Spring Lake in Santa Rosa was perfect. We were not expecting to feel so far away from it all, but we did. Little J took to it like a squirrel to a pile of acorns, which he collected and left outside little squirrel holes.
The three of us spent hours at the picnic table building the Lego fire truck Uncle Mike had gotten him for his birthday. Then it was down to the swimming pond for splashing and paddling and ice cream sandwiches. My favorite was lying on my warm beach towel and watching Little J play with Dennis in the water, J’s summer-bleached hair drenched in sun like a halo.
I did get into the water myself, and Little J said, “Mommy, I can’t believe it’s your first time swimming since your medicine.” Just when you think kids couldn’t possibly be keeping track of such things.
At night, after glorious bbq’d meals by Dennis, we ate s’mores and counted stars. Then we all piled into the tent to sleep. It’s a three-man tent, but with J sleeping at a diagonal between us, his face smashed against mine (bliss) and his feet tangled up in D’s knees (not so much), we barely fit. This arrangement was well-worth the sleeping in til 8:30 each morning, though.
In the end, Little J missed his cat and his friends, but Dennis and I felt we could have stayed another week. We’ll definitely be going back there soon. I’d lost track of my supposed illness the whole time, all the walking and playing and breathing fresh air. It’s magic. And it reminds me of our family’s favorite summer anthem: California Stars, written by Woody Guthrie and performed by Wilco and Billy Bragg. Enjoy.
The early courting days (a.k.a. the Chet Baker Days)
Last night, I lay in bed, exhausted after a long day in the chemo chair. I listened to Dennis sweetly singing Little J to sleep in the next room. Softly and gently, he croons, “Look for the Silver Lining,” a Chet Baker favorite that father and son sing together every night. It was the first song Dennis played for me in his house in Oakland when we started dating. I remember that, at the time, the moment made me think of a line from one of my favorite Bossa Nova songs. Like a message from above it sang, “Follow the fellow who follows a dream.”
And I did. Dennis follows his dreams and defends the silver lining against all odds to this day.
After Little J fell asleep, Dennis came into our room where Virgil rested with me. I had a little cry, then tried to pull myself together. Dennis just pet Virgil’s belly, gently pulling out hairballs and brambles from the garden, and said, “No go ahead and cry. You deserve it. Get it out.” So I indulged in a few more tears about why-can’t-PARP inhibitors-be -ready-for-me-now-so-we-don’t-ever-have-to-go-through-this-again. And then quiet cuddling. And moments later, Dennis suggests a plan of action (always about the solution, this guy). People we could write to, ways we could advocate for me and the thousands of women in my position right now.
The tears were good. The hope and promise, even better.