Saturday, June 19, 2010

Grace 911: Friends, Family, Maury and Zappos

In the past few months of living with breast cancer, I have discovered a few miracles that were right in front of me all along and which have helped me through the uncertainly of this journey.

Friends. Being the independent sort and the Queen of Caregivers myself, it has always been a bit of a challenge for me to let my guard down enough to let others take care of me. I’m sure I have a lot of built-in excuses for this and I’m sure I could spend years laying on a mid-century sofa in some analyst’s office discussing this topic alone.

That being said, I have been so amazed, grateful, rewarded and downright overwhelmed by the kindness and generosity of my friends and colleagues during this journey. Every day is like the evening of the 1985 Academy Awards when Sally Field blurted out “You like me! You really like me!” It is sometimes overwhelming to take it all in appropriately and to feel so “lucky” in the middle of such an otherwise stressful time. For example:

- I have my Personal Driving Team (a/k/a “Awesome Driving Team”) of former OPG colleagues who have my chemo appointments so well scheduled and calendared that is it a near para-military operation. They set this up all by themselves and monitor my appointment needs in case I feel like slipping back into my old curmudgeonly caregiver ways.

- I have a great group of current AMC colleagues who laugh at my bad jokes and listen to every last “TMI” detail of my treatment. This includes a “Chemo Calendar” (similar to a fund raising barometer) to color in my progress toward finishing my chemo (“30% done!”). Some days we talk a lot about what’s going on; some days a little. But every day, it is a blessing to feel their support.

- Of course, there is the famous “dear friend” who bought me an iPad for my birthday. Every time we get together, he helps me upload more and more apps that help me manage my life, pay my bills, goof off (“Bejeweled 2”) and which make my chemo appointments fly by. He even lets me use my iPad for a little while when he’s done playing with it.

- Also overwhelming is the support, good wishes and general “you can do it’s” I receive from friends on FaceBook. I decided to go public on FB because it started to feel emotionally stifling not to. For weeks before “coming out” I receded into silence (not like me). I just wasn’t ready to go public and wasn’t quite sure how to without seeming too needy (there’s that word...). Then I decided to start a blog as a way to cope – and to effectively but gently broach the subject of my breast cancer diagnosis.

Since then, I have probably brought TMI to a whole new level. But it is so gratifying to receive words of encouragement from people I attended grade school with (you know who you are); colleagues and fellow survivors from my years at The Times; and an entire support team of well-wishers and cheerleaders that I never knew were there for me. I guess I just had to ask. Lesson learned.

I thank you all so much and want you to know how much I appreciate the big things and the little things – the hugs, the love, the sitting with me for three hours of chemo, the pie (!), the cards, the chili, the “hey I love your blog”, the “hey, how can I help?”, the pep talks and the general good vibes -- which are helping me get through this with my head and my wig on straight.

Family. My immediate family, which includes my Mom, my son, and truly, my ex-husband Ben, have been a source of hands-on, unconditional support for me since this all started.

- My Mom, who is 84 and has her own health issues, spends her days worrying that she is not doing enough to help me. Little does she know (although I try to reassure her) that the times when I know I can just pick-up the phone and have an instant nervous break-down with her are, as the commercial says, “priceless”. You can’t do that with just anyone. At least I can’t.

- My son, who is 20 and has special needs, has been such a rock in all this; it is just amazing to me. When I first started my chemo, he was the one I wanted a hug from most. I would just hold onto him and cry like a little baby. He would never cave, and always just hugged me back and said “It’s gonna be alright. You’re gonna be alright.” I have no idea where he got this resolve unless it’s just a child’s innate feeling that nothing really bad can happen to a parent. Maybe I don’t give him enough credit. And yet, early on I sensed that getting a big hug from someone who thinks you’re immortal would be a really helpful thing right now.

On his weekends with me, Sam seems to enjoy the role reversal of tucking me in at night and turning off the TV if I fall asleep with it on (frequently). It’s terribly sweet. I always joke about it with him and repeat the lines from the book I Love You Forever which has the grown son helping his aged Mom to bed and repeating the lines:

I'll love you forever,
I'll like you for always,
As long as I'm living
My Mommy you'll be.

Now that I’m bald, he thinks I’m just the coolest Mom in town. When he first saw my newly svelte head, he laughed and said “I’ve seen everything now!”

In addition to the incredible grace my son’s shows in the face of the sudden changes that he sees in his one-and-only-mother, he still finds the time to blow me away with his love. When I least expect it, walking around the house with a camo-colored Buff “do-rag” on my head, he suddenly looks at me and says: “You are beautiful.” I don’t know where he gets this stuff. But in that moment, I am so proud to have had anything to do with raising such a wonderful young man.

- Since my ex-husband is remarried and is totally averse to any public displays of gratitude, let me just embarrass him by saying that he has been there for my surgeries, for my moral support, my urgent “need a Sam hug” runs and a whole host of other unexpected support team duties which I will never truly be able to adequately thank him for. Or his wife, who has definitely signed up for the American Cancer Society’s “Borrow-An-Ex-Husband” program. (Thanks, Kate).

Maury. Who would’ve ever thought that The Maury Show would provide such an important public service? Where have I been?

My friend Amy happened to have the bad luck to call me after I had just made my appointment to have my hair buzzed. Just one “hello” into the phone and she knew something was going on. She listened sympathetically, and then gave me a great piece of advice: “Just stay home today and make it a Maury Marathon Day. You’ll feel better about yourself in no time.”

I never got around to watching Maury that day, preferring instead to just bump into walls and lament the loss of my hair – which had now morphed in my pre-buzz-cut mind into being the perfect head of hair. (Right!) But I did get around to it last week. Here is the series of text messages I sent Amy:

Text #1: “Hi- Just got home from chemo. Resting and watching Maury: “Send in the Decoys…BUST My Cheating Spouse!” Just what the doctor ordered! Lol!”

Text #2: “Favorite exchange so far:

Wife: “I cheated on you.”
Husband: “With who?”
Wife: “Well, I just don’t know his name.”

Text #3: (I was on a roll…):

“Here’s another fav: “Brittany is getting married in a month and she has to know if her fiancĂ© has been sleeping with her mother.”

YOU were right! I am feeling so much better about my life already!!!

I mean, look at the facts: On count one, I KNOW the name of my baby-daddy, and I even know where he lives and see him often. Check. On count two, I don’t have a fiancĂ©, but I’m sure my 84 year old mother would agree with me when I say that although she has certainly been known to appreciate a nice-looking man, she has other priorities in her life right now. Those priorities would not included cat-fighting with her daughter over a dude.

This is all just very helpful in reminding me that breast cancer is temporary but bad taste is forever.

Zappos. What can I say about a store that understands my need for shoes and my need for immediate shoe gratification? Especially now!

This is so embarrassing but in addition to the “chemo craving” shoes I bought and wrote about (and posted pictures of), I bought four more pairs of shoes in the past three weeks. I also received another pair of the “chemo craving” shoes in bright red for my birthday. This must be some kind of a record. I didn’t get them all from Zappos but I did get the last three pairs from them: by overnight mail, fit perfectly, love them all! Yes, God has a funny way of balancing the scales. (So a big “shout out” to Jesus too.)

Grace. I’m sure this has all been said before, but perhaps not by me. I’m only about half-way through this journey – at least the part I know about and can plan for. And yet, I have learned so much and felt so incongruously grateful as I walk this path. And the miracle to me is that so far I have never had to walk it alone. I thank you all from the bottom of my little Italian heart.


  1. A wonderful post, Denine. You write with love and laughter and a lot of grace. I'm cheering you on from my little corner of New Hampshire.

  2. Thanks for sharing your thoughts--you are a great, strong person and I know you will beat this (with or without Maury)... :)

  3. Thanks for writing this - it is such a comical yet graceful way of expressing a trying time in your life. Now go ahead and get better- maybe you already are.