Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The End of the Year

My favorite calendar is the T3V by Letts of London. It is leather bound and a book format. On most days it is the most luxurious thing in my life. I buy the calendars from Layweines in Yorkville in Toronto—the most wonderful writing goods store in the world. I always splurge and buy two for each year just in case I have to make big changes mid-year. Last year I bought both books in red leather. It turned out to be a scarlet letter year. And a year of big changes.

Today when I closed out my 2008 calendar, and switched the important phone numbers to the soft teal colored Letts for 2009, I went through the 2008 book. I could trace the meetings, the cups of coffee, gelato dates, dinners, walks in the cemetery and days of rendezvous and love making. Seeing those days and watching how the calendar of our life unfolded I also remembered the times of hurt and anger. The things that were said, unsaid and those that were kept secret. I also saw how cancer wove its way into our lives. The date that says “drive John to doctor—keep cell phone on”. It was for a routine colonoscopy. The rest is love in the time of cancer.

Looking through that calendar I could see my back and forth, my emotional debates and painful struggles. I wondered, as I have all year, why I did not make my “no” stick and why “go home” did not stick for him. I saw his absolute confidence in this relationship and my tormented debate. Our pattern was established early on.

Today on New Year’s Eve we will have a romantic lunch at a French restaurant and go to a movie. After that we’ll go to the bookstore where we can play and use the gift certificates that are burning in our pockets. Then home to a small dinner and a movie on TV. I have laid out my sparkles, sequins and black lace for this night. A new year will begin. I can’t even guess at what 2009 will bring. But I have no regrets.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Amy Winehouse on Married Men

One of my Christmas gifts from John was the Amy Winehouse Tribute Album. (Amy is important in our life of love and cancer. See the entries to this blog from 7.20.08 and 9.1.08).

She has become a joke to many because of her, shall we say, dissolute ways, and yes, her refusal to go to rehab. But listening to the new album it’s clear the girl has a great voice. She is more chanteuse than rocker, more Edith Piaf than Janis Joplin.

I play the CD over and over. Years ago I listened to and loved the Roaches song about The Married Men and now Amy sings about the married man in her life and the girls in bars constantly disappointed by the married men that they believe in and are then disappointed by. I struggle here too. He is married after all. I squint at that. We are a couple now for years. Some days it doesn’t matter. But then suddenly it does and I am defeated by my own feelings and the force of social culture.

When John and I talk about this it is clear that he doesn’t care. “I love you and I am here, we are a couple, we are committed.” It’s very clear to him that nothing else matters.
I wonder if this will be the breaking point. He doesn’t really get this and until he does he’ll have to go, go, go

Sunday, December 28, 2008


The teacher talks to us about discernment. She says that discernment is always a choice between goods. In true discernment either choice is for something good: Go to Mexico or Go to Italy. Marry him or remain on your own. Study art history or study theology. Each one is good but you cannot do both. How to discern?

Some discernment advice:

Get the facts: Are their financial implications? Health requirements? Prerequisites?

Talk to smart people: Talk to those who have done these things.

Then live for two weeks as if you are making Choice A: I will marry him.
How does that feel?
Then live for two weeks as if you are making Choice B: I will leave him.
How does that feel.

Get quiet. Very quiet. Listen for God’s still, small voice. Stay quiet and pray.
What do you really want?

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Cancer and Christmas

It’s all here. Love and carols, candlelight service at the United Methodist Church last night, sleeping late and making love through the morning, a sponge bath then washing his hair over the side of the tub—he cannot get the stitches wet for three more days—a walk in the neighborhood, opening gifts—books and music, and tickets and clothes for both of us. These are the things we have shared and talked about from the first day we met. Cashmere and satin and a collection of erotic poetry keep the love alive. We cook dinner together: Cornish game hens with smooth small breasts, artichokes to slide through our teeth, potatoes soaked with butter and garlic and chocolate mousse. A bowl of nuts to crack while we watch A Christmas Story.

Christmas together. We never thought we’d see this. But here it is. We have both cancer and Christmas and it is enough.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Hospital Bah Humbug

Ok, so they said that removing his port would be a very simple procedure. And it was. But what they did not say was that the after care is not simple. He was in and out of the “procedure” in less than 30 minutes and it was local anesthesia only. But on the way out the door they said, “Oh, and no shower for seven days. Be sure to not use that arm for a week. And nothing strenuous for at least ten days.”

So now what do I do with all the red lace on Christmas Eve?

Monday, December 22, 2008

No Port No More

Today back to St. Peters Hospital to have John’s port removed. The port was installed seven months ago and he received chemo thru that opening in his chest. A handy device but an alien object.

I was cranky all morning though. Truthfully, it was a bad hair day but I was also unhappy to be returning to this hospital which feels like the scene of the crime. Amazing how those feelings come back. The fear during his initial surgery…seven hours became 11 and then 14. His pain and my pain and her pain too.

The port was installed In June and chemo began a few days later. Since then our lives have been about cancer and chemo when they are not about love and sex. Quite a distillation.

But today I was there again, wandering hospital hallways, finding the cafeteria and gift shop and the chapel. This was the chapel that I visited so often that long week when he could not talk or sleep or eat. That scary week when—I realize now—we didn’t even know how much scarier this could eventually get. So that chapel was home.

My prayer today was for his health, for her peace, and for my freedom.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Post-Caregiver Let Down

A friend asks me, “Is this post-caregiver let down?” I am full of resentment, sadness, and just plain pissed. Everyone is congratulating him, praising him and asking “how are you?” He is, he says, “Fine, great, just fine.” But I see the lines on my face and the work I have left undone for months, the opportunities passed up, the ways I let go of things that I now have to go back and clean up. It’s not just the doctor’s visits and the worries but the cost to my life. My head haunts me with the Mother mantra: “Selfish, selfish, selfish”, the horrible accusation. Oh well, maybe I am but cancer and caregiving happened to me too. Was I expecting a trophy? No, but maybe thanks or something that sparkles.

Monday, December 15, 2008

No Care for the Caregiver

I feel like I get a big “F” in taking care of myself. I have been good at taking care of him but today: sick, tired, mouth hurting, aching and yes, heart hurting too, I wonder. In my hope to not be selfish, in my desire to be helpful, I forgot that I could lose me. Love in the time of cancer now feels like another kind of cancer. It feels like I have been foolish, blind, squinting, believing lies, wanting to hear what I hoped to hear. I am sad. I need love medicine of my own. But who is my caregiver? I forgot to get that in writing.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

I am Sick and Tired

Last night I went into the bathroom to take out my contact lenses and in less than a minute I was on the floor, head over the toilet and vomiting. Dizzy, diarrhea, vomiting. I lay on the floor and then crawled into bed. After that I was back to the bathroom every three hours for another round.

Was it something I ate? (John and I ate the same food) Was it the flu? (I had a flu shot) Some other bug?

Finally it was morning and I was empty and exhausted. I began to sip juice and warm Coke and to eat dry cheerios one tiny O at a time. But I am tired and still a bit dizzy. I get up to work then lay back down. It’s frustrating. I am not good at being sick.

I think about John’s chemo and know I could never do it. I fight being sick. I can’t surrender. It makes it worse.

And yes, all the while I am thinking, “what if this is something worse, the start of a real medical problem?” The odds are that it is not that but now I have an extra layer of fear having seen life go from ordinary to cancer.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Sorting it Out

I’m sorting now. It’s a gift from the pause in treatment and it’s overdue in this relationship. One of the things that cancer took from us was time to be more casual and time to move slowly. I didn’t know it but I have been craving that slow, easy time in a relationship when you can say, “Oh you like that? Well, I like this.” That time when you can zig and zag, and with enough time to explore the other person and to ask hard questions. Where will this lead? I don’t know, but I need this time. I feel my bones relaxing. For the past six months I didn’t know that I was holding on so tight or holding so much in, but now it feels like something is collapsing, something is releasing and I need this release so bad.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Cancer Triangle

Now we are in-between and it is its own strange time. Making holiday plans, shopping, talking about gifts and trips and life—as if cancer is over. But is it over or only away on a trip of its own. They say that people who have cancer are never really over it. Once you know this can happen to you it’s always there hovering in the background. It’s true for caregivers too. It’s there in the background and compounded by my questions about the relationship. Will we ever have a relationship that is just us? Will there always be a triangle: me and him and cancer?

Saturday, December 6, 2008

At the Still Point

At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.

(from TS Eliot, Burnt Norton II)

Friday, December 5, 2008

Intimacy and Autonomy

I'm trying to find the middle. What is the midpoint between caring and self-sacrifice? What is loving and what is subjugation? How do I take care of him and not lose me? How do I learn about his life and not lose my own? This is the challenge in all relationships—the balance between or the pendulum swinging from intimacy to autonomy. A good relationship needs both for both partners. But it’s never at the same time. I feel vulnerable here, like I could get lost, drown in his life, lose my own. And then what? Hate him and me.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Dressing for All of It

Ok, here is my sartorial challenge for tomorrow:

I begin by delivering food for volunteers, then go to the public radio station to record a holiday essay, then to a ladies holiday lunch at a country club, then I meet John at the oncologist’s office for his post-chemo check-up, from there it’s back to the office to meet with more volunteers. I have to create one outfit that can last all day, fit all these circumstances, and that is comfortable!

I have laid out several outfits: Brown skirt and sweater with “good” scarf and low heels. That’s pretty me but underdressed for the luncheon. So I try brown sweater dress, pearls and boots. Again comfy and easy and nice looking but more like church. I have lots of black—but do I want to wear black to the oncologist’s office? Bad omen? Bad sport? Black and red will work for the holiday lunch and I could wear flats most of the day and switch in to the pointy high heels for the lunch. But then do I look like a party girl at the volunteer event and like a Republican wife at the NPR station? And what if the news is bad at the doctor’s office? Will I be Tammy Faye with streaming mascara, low cut top and sparkly gold earrings?

Does it matter? I know, you think the answer is no, but it’s not. It matters a lot. It matters that I feel like me all day long and that I look and feel good so I can stay in my skin until and when listening to the oncologist. If the news is good I’ll be glad my earrings are dangly and if the news is bad I’ll be glad that all of me was there.